Diurnal cycle of convection, clouds, and water vapor in the tropical upper troposphere: Satellites versus a general circulation model

Baijun Tian, Brian J. Soden, Xiangqian Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


Global high-resolution (3-hourly, 0.1° × 0.1° longitude-latitude) water vapor (6.7 μ) and window (11 μ) radiances from multiple geostationary satellites are used to document the diurnal cycle of upper tropospheric relative humidity (UTH) and its relationship to deep convection and high clouds in the whole tropics and to evaluate the ability of the new Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) global atmosphere and land model (AM2/LM2) to simulate these diurnal variations. Similar to the diurnal cycle of deep convection and high clouds, coherent diurnal variations in UTH are also observed over the deep convective regions, where the daily mean UTH is high. In addition, the diurnal cycle in UTH also features a land-sea contrast: stronger over land but weaker over ocean. UTH tends to peak around midnight over ocean in contrast to 0300 LST over land. Furthermore, UTH is observed to lag high cloud cover by ∼6 hours, and the latter further lags deep convection, implying that deep convection serves to moisten the upper troposphere through the evaporation of the cirrus anvil clouds generated by deep convection. Compared to the satellite observations, AM2/LM2 can roughly capture the diurnal phases of deep convection, high cloud cover, and UTH over land; however, the magnitudes are noticeably weaker in the model. Over the oceans the AM2/LM2 has difficulty in simulating both the diurnal phase and amplitude of these quantities. These results reveal some important deficiencies in the model's convection and cloud parameterization schemes and suggest the lack of a diurnal cycle in SST may be a shortcoming in the boundary forcing for atmospheric models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)D10101 1-16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research D: Atmospheres
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 27 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Diurnal cycle
  • GCM
  • Satellite radiance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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