The diurnal cycle of the smoky marine boundary layer observed during August in the remote southeast Atlantic

Jianhao Zhang, Paquita Zuidema

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Ascension Island (8<span classCombining double low line"inline-formula">ĝ'</span>&thinsp;S, 14.5<span classCombining double low line"inline-formula">ĝ'</span>&thinsp;W) is located at the northwestern edge of the south Atlantic stratocumulus deck, with most clouds in August characterized by surface observers as "stratocumulus and cumulus with bases at different levels", and secondarily as "cumulus of limited vertical extent" and occurring within a typically decoupled boundary layer. Field measurements have previously shown that the highest amounts of sunlight-absorbing smoke occur annually within the marine boundary layer during August. On more smoke-free days, the diurnal cycle in cloudiness includes a nighttime maximum in cloud liquid water path and rain, an afternoon cloud minimum, and a secondary late-afternoon increase in cumulus and rain. The afternoon low-cloud minimum is more pronounced on days with a smokier boundary layer. The cloud liquid water paths are also reduced throughout most of the diurnal cycle when more smoke is present, with the difference from cleaner conditions most pronounced at night. Precipitation is infrequent. An exception is the mid-morning, when the boundary layer deepens and liquid water paths increase. The data support a view that a radiatively enhanced decoupling persisting throughout the night is key to understanding the changes in the cloud diurnal cycle when the boundary layer is smokier. Under these conditions, the nighttime stratiform cloud layer does not always recouple to the sub-cloud layer, and the decoupling maintains more moisture within the sub-cloud layer. After the sun rises, enhanced shortwave absorption in a smokier boundary layer can drive a vertical ascent that momentarily couples the sub-cloud layer to the cloud layer, deepening the boundary layer and ventilating moisture throughout, a process that may also be aided by a shift to smaller droplets. After noon, shortwave absorption within smokier boundary layers again reduces the upper-level stratiform cloud and the sub-cloud relative humidity, discouraging further cumulus development and again strengthening a decoupling that lasts longer into the night. The novel diurnal mechanism provides a new challenge for cloud models to emulate. The lower free troposphere above cloud is more likely to be cooler, when boundary layer smoke is present, and lower free-tropospheric winds are stronger and more northeasterly, with both (meteorological) influences supporting further smoke entrainment into the boundary layer from above.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14493-14516
Number of pages24
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number23
StatePublished - Nov 29 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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