Observations of stratocumulus clouds and their effect on the eastern pacific surface heat budget along 20°S

Simon P. de Szoeke, Sandra Yuter, David Mechem, Chris W. Fairall, Casey D. Burleyson, Paquita Zuidema

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52 Scopus citations


Widespread stratocumulus clouds were observed on nine transects from seven research cruises to the southeastern tropical Pacific Ocean along 20°S, 75°-85°W in October-November of 2001-08. The nine transects sample a unique combination of synoptic and interannual variability affecting the clouds; their ensemble diagnoses longitude-vertical sections of the atmosphere, diurnal cycles of cloud properties and drizzle statistics, and the effect of stratocumulus clouds on surface radiation.Mean cloud fraction was 0.88, and 67% of 10-min overhead cloud fraction observations were overcast. Clouds cleared in the afternoon [1500 local time (LT)] to a minimum of fraction of 0.7. Precipitation radar found strong drizzle with reflectivity above 40 dBZ. Cloud-base (CB) heights rise with longitude from 1.0 km at 75°W to 1.2 km at 85°W in the mean, but the slope varies from cruise to cruise. CB-lifting condensation level (LCL) displacement, a measure of decoupling, increases westward. At night CB-LCL is 0-200 m and increases 400 m from dawn to 1600 LT, before collapsing in the evening. Despite zonal gradients in boundary layer and cloud vertical structure, surface radiation and cloud radiative forcing are relatively uniform in longitude. When present, clouds reduce solar radiation by 160 W m-2 and radiate 70 W m-2 more downward longwave radiation than clear skies. Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3 (CMIP3) simulations of the climate of the twentieth century show 40 ± 20 W m-2 too little net cloud radiative cooling at the surface. Simulated clouds have correct radiative forcing when present, but models have ;50% too few clouds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8542-8567
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Atmosphere-ocean interaction
  • Remote sensing
  • Sea/ocean surface
  • Ship observations
  • Stratiform clouds
  • Tropics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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