Cloud adjustments from large-scale smoke-circulation interactions strongly modulate the southeast Atlantic stratocumulus-to-cumulus transition Journal Article uri icon



  • Abstract. Smoke from southern Africa blankets the southeast Atlantic Ocean from June–October, producing strong and competing aerosol radiative effects. Smoke effects on the transition between overcast stratocumulus and scattered cumulus clouds are investigated along a Lagrangian (air-mass-following) trajectory in regional climate and large eddy simulation models. Results are compared with observations from three recent field campaigns that took place in August 2017: ORACLES, CLARIFY, and LASIC. The case study is set up around the joint ORACLES-CLARIFY flight that took place near Ascension Island on 18 August 2017. Smoke sampled upstream on an ORACLES flight on 15 August 2017 likely entrained into the marine boundary layer later sampled during the joint flight. The case is first simulated with the WRF-CAM5 regional climate model in three distinct setups: 1) FireOn, in which smoke emissions and any resulting smoke-cloud-radiation interactions are included; 2) FireOff, in which no smoke emissions are included; and 3) RadOff, in which smoke emissions and their microphysical effects are included but aerosol does not interact directly with radiation. Over the course of the Lagrangian trajectory, differences in free tropospheric thermodynamic properties between FireOn and FireOff are nearly identical to those between FireOn and RadOff, showing that aerosol-radiation interactions are primarily responsible for the free tropospheric effects. These effects are non-intuitive: in addition to the expected heating within the core of the smoke plume, there is also a "banding" effect of cooler temperature (~1–2 K) and greatly enhanced moisture (>2 g/kg) at plume top. This banding effect is caused by a vertical displacement of the former continental boundary layer in the free troposphere in the FireOn simulation resulting from anomalous diabatic heating due to smoke absorption of sunlight that manifests primarily as a few hundred m per day reduction in large-scale subsidence over the ocean. A large eddy simulation (LES) is then forced with free tropospheric fields taken from the outputs for the WRF-CAM5 FireOn and FireOff runs. Cases are run by selectively perturbing one variable (e.g., aerosol number concentration, temperature, moisture, vertical velocity) at a time to better understand the contributions from different indirect (microphysical), "large-scale" semi-direct (above-cloud thermodynamic and subsidence changes), and "local" semi-direct (below-cloud smoke absorption) effects. Despite a more than five-fold increase in cloud droplet number concentration when including smoke aerosol concentrations, minimal differences in cloud fraction evolution are simulated by the LES when comparing the base case to a perturbed aerosol case with identical thermodynamic and dynamic forcings. A factor-of-two decrease in background free tropospheric aerosol concentrations from the FireOff simulation shifts the cloud evolution from a classical entrainment-driven "deepening-warming" transition to trade cumulus to a precipitation-driven "drizzle-depletion" transition to open cells, however. The thermodynamic and dynamic changes caused by the WRF-simulated large-scale adjustments to smoke diabatic heating strongly influence cloud evolution in terms of both the rate of deepening (especially for changes in the inversion temperature jump and in subsidence) and in cloud fraction on the final day of the simulation (especially for the moisture "banding" effect). Such large-scale semi-direct effects would not have been possible to simulate using a small domain LES model alone.;

publication date

  • June 10, 2022

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Date in CU Experts

  • June 21, 2022 11:48 AM

Full Author List

  • Diamond MS; Saide PE; Zuidema P; Ackerman AS; Doherty SJ; Fridlind AM; Gordon H; Howes C; Kazil J; Yamaguchi T

author count

  • 13

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