Composite life cycle of maritime tropical mesoscale convective systems in scatterometer and microwave satellite observations

Brian Mapes, Ralph Milliff, Jan Morzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


This study examines scatterometer-observed surface wind divergence and vorticity, along with precipitable water (PW), across the life cycle of tropical maritime mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) as resolved in 0.5° data. Simple composites were constructed around first appearances of cold (<210 K) cloud tops in infrared (IR) data at 3-hourly resolution. Many thousands of such events from the tropical Indo-Pacific in 2000 were used. Composites of subpopulations were also constructed by subdividing the dataset according to IR event size and duration, as well as by prevailing values of PW and vorticity at a 5° scale. The composite MCS life cycle here spans about a day and covers a few hundred kilometers, with a remarkable sameness across subpopulations. Surface wind convergence and PW buildup lead cold cloud appearance by many hours. Afterward there are many hours of divergence, indicative of downdrafts. Contrary to motivating hypotheses, the strength of this divergence relative to convergence is scarcely different in humid and dry subpopulation composites. Normalized time series of composite vorticity show an evolution that seems consistent with vortex stretching by this convergence-divergence cycle, with peak vorticity near the end of the period of convergence (3 h prior to cold cloud appearance). In rotating conditions, the common 1-day MCS life cycle is superposed on large-scale mean vorticity and convergence, approximately in proportion, which appear to be well scale-separated (covering the whole of the 48-h and 5°-10° averages) and are as strong as or stronger than the MCS signature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-208
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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