Simulations of trade wind cumuli under a strong inversion

B. Stevens, A. S. Ackerman, B. A. Albrecht, A. R. Brown, A. Chlond, J. Cuxart, P. G. Duynkerke, D. C. Lewellen, M. K. Macvean, R. A.J. Neggers, E. Sánchez, A. P. Siebesma, D. E. Stevens

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188 Scopus citations


The fifth intercomparison of the Global Water and Energy Experiment Cloud System Studies Working Group 1 is used as a vehicle for better understanding the dynamics of trade wind cumuli capped by a strong inversion. The basis of the intercomparison is 10 simulations by 7 groups. These simulations are supplemented by many further sensitivity studies, including some with very refined grid meshes. The simulations help illustrate the turbulent dynamics of trade cumuli in such a regime. In many respects the dynamics are similar to those found in many previous simulations of trade cumuli capped by weaker inversions. The principal differences are the extent to which the cloud layer is quasi-steady in the current simulations, evidence of weak countergradient momentum transport within the cloud layer, and the development and influence of an incipient stratiform cloud layer at the top of the cloud layer. Although many elements of the turbulent structure (including the wind profiles, the evolution of cloud-base height, the statistics of the subcloud layer, and the nature of mixing in the lower and middle parts of the cloud layer) are robustly predicted, the representation of the stratiform cloud amount by the different simulations is remarkably sensitive to a number of factors. Chief among these are differences between numerical algorithms. These sensitivities persist even among simulations on relatively refined grid meshes. Part of this sensitivity is attributed to a physically realistic positive radiative feedback, whereby a propensity toward higher cloud fractions in any given simulation is amplified by longwave radiative cooling. The simulations also provide new insight into the dynamics of the transition layer at cloud base. In accord with observations, the simulations predict that this layer is most identifiable in terms of moisture variances and gradients. The simulations help illustrate the highly variable (in both height and thickness) nature of the transition layer, and we speculate that this variability helps regulate convection. Lastly the simulations are used to help evaluate simple models of trade wind boundary layers. In accord with previous studies, mass-flux models well represent the dynamics of the cloud layer, while mixing-length models well represent the subcloud layer. The development of the stratiform cloud layer is not, however, captured by the mass-flux models. The simulations indicate that future theoretical research needs to focus on interface rules, whereby the cloud layer is coupled to the subcloud layer below and the free atmosphere above. Future observational studies of this regime would be of most benefit if they could provide robust cloud statistics as a function of mean environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1870-1891
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 15 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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