Mid-level clouds are frequent above the southeast Atlantic stratocumulus clouds

Adeyemi A. Adebiyi, Paquita Zuidema, Ian Chang, Sharon P. Burton, Brian Cairns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Shortwave-absorbing aerosols seasonally overlay extensive low-level stratocumulus clouds over the southeast Atlantic. While much attention has focused on the interactions between the low-level clouds and the overlying aerosols, few studies have focused on the mid-level clouds that also occur over the region. The presence of mid-level clouds over the region complicates the space-based remote-sensing retrievals of cloud properties and the evaluation of cloud radiation budgets. Here we characterize the mid-level clouds over the southeast Atlantic using lidar-and radar-based satellite cloud retrievals and observations collected in September 2016 during the ORACLES (ObseRvations of Aerosols above CLouds and their intEractionS) field campaign. We find that mid-level clouds over the southeast Atlantic are relatively common, with the majority of the clouds occurring between altitudes of 5 and 7 km and at temperatures between 0 and -20 °C. The mid-level clouds occur at the top of a moist mid-tropospheric smoke-aerosol layer, most frequently between August and October, and closer to the southern African coast than farther offshore. They occur more frequently during the night than during the day. Between July and October, approximately 64 % of the mid-level clouds had a geometric cloud thickness less than 1 km, corresponding to a cloud optical depth of less than 4. A lidar-based depolarization-backscatter relationship for September 2016 indicates that the mid-level clouds are liquid-only clouds with no evidence of the existence of ice. In addition, a polarimeter-derived cloud droplet size distribution indicates that approximately 85 % of the September 2016 mid-level clouds had an effective radius less than 7 μm, which could further discourage the ability of the clouds to glaciate. These clouds are mostly associated with synoptically modulated mid-tropospheric moisture outflow that can be linked to the detrainment from the continental-based clouds. Overall, the supercooled mid-level clouds reduce the radiative cooling rates of the underlying low-altitude cloud tops by approximately 10 K d-1, thus influencing the regional cloud radiative budget.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11025-11043
Number of pages19
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 25 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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