Thermodynamic and radiative structure of stratocumulus-topped boundary layers

Virendra P. Ghate, Mark A. Miller, Bruce A. Albrecht, Christopher W. Fairall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations


Stratocumulus-topped boundary layers (STBLs) observed in three different regions are described in the context of their thermodynamic and radiative properties. The primary dataset consists of 131 soundings from the southeastern Pacific (SEP), 90 soundings from the island of Graciosa (GRW) in the North Atlantic, and 83 soundings from the U.S. Southern Great Plains (SGP). A new technique that makes an attempt to preserve the depths of the sublayers within an STBL is proposed for averaging the profiles of thermodynamic and radiative variables. A one-dimensional radiative transfer model known as the Rapid Radiative Transfer Model was used to compute the radiative fluxes within the STBL. The SEP STBLs were characterized by a stronger and deeper inversion, together with thicker clouds, lower free-tropospheric moisture, and higher radiative flux divergence across the cloud layer, as compared to the GRW STBLs. Compared to the STBLs over the marine locations, the STBLs over SGP had higher wind shear and a negligible (-0.41 g kg-1) jump in mixing ratio across the inversion. Despite the differences in many of the STBL thermodynamic parameters, the differences in liquid water path at the three locations were statistically insignificant. The soundings were further classified as well mixed or decoupled based on the difference between the surface and cloud-base virtual potential temperature. The decoupled STBLs were deeper than the well-mixed STBLs at all three locations. Statistically insignificant differences in surface latent heat flux (LHF) between well-mixed and decoupled STBLs suggest that parameters other than LHF are responsible for producing decoupling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)430-451
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Clouds
  • Cumulus clouds
  • Radiative fluxes
  • Thermodynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science

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