Turbulence in Continental Stratocumulus, Part I: External Forcings and Turbulence Structures

Ming Fang, Bruce A. Albrecht, Virendra P. Ghate, Pavlos Kollias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Comprehensive, ground-based observations from the US Department of Energy Atmospheric Radiation Measurements program Southern Great Plains site are used to study the variability of turbulence forcings and cloud-scale turbulence structures in a continental stratocumulus cloud. The turbulence observations are made from an upward facing cloud (35 GHz) Doppler radar. Cloud base and liquid water path are characterized using a lidar at the surface and a microwave radiometer. The turbulence characterizations are compared and contrasted with those observed in marine stratocumulus clouds. During the 16-h observation period used in this study the cloud-base and cloud-top heights evolve with time and changes in liquid water path observed by the radiometer are consistent with variations in cloud depth. Unlike marine stratocumulus clouds, a diurnal cycle of cloud thickness and liquid water path is not observed. The observed surface latent, sensible, and virtual sensible heat fluxes and the radiative fluxes exhibit a diurnal cycle with values increasing from sunrise to afternoon and decreasing afterwards. During the night, the sensible heat, virtual sensible heat and the net radiative fluxes at the surface are slightly negative. Solar radiative heating prevails in the cloud layer during the day and strong radiative cooling exists at cloud top even during the day. Unlike marine stratocumulus, surface heating described by the convective velocity scale Ws* and cloud-top cooling described by Wr* are both important in driving the in-cloud turbulence during the day, whereas cloud-top cooling is the exclusive contributor during the night. The combined Ws* and Wr*(the total velocity scale Wt*) provides a useful way to track the evolution of the turbulence structure in the cloud. The variance of the radar-measured radial velocity, which is related to resolved turbulence, follows the diurnal cycle and is consistent with the total velocity scale Wt* variations. It is higher during the day and lower during the night, which is contrary to that in marine stratocumulus. The Wt* values are lowest around sunset when the radiative cooling is also small due to upper-level clouds observed above the low-level stratus. The vertical distribution of the variance results from the surface heating during the day and cloud-top cooling during the night. The squared spectrum width, which is related to turbulence structures within the radar sampling volume (unresolved turbulence) also follows the diurnal cycle. Its vertical distribution indicates that the unresolved turbulence more closely relates to the processes near cloud top. Turbulence in the cloud requires about an hour to respond to the external forcings of surface heating and cloud-top radiative cooling. Positive skewness prevails during the day and negative skewness prevails at night with a sharp transition around sunset. Resolved turbulence dominates near cloud base whereas unresolved turbulence dominates near cloud top. The turbulence characteristics and variability defined in this study can be used to evaluate the time evolution of turbulence structures in large eddy simulation forced by surface and cloud-top radiative forcings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)341-360
Number of pages20
JournalBoundary-Layer Meteorology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Continental stratocumulus
  • External forcings
  • Turbulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Turbulence in Continental Stratocumulus, Part I: External Forcings and Turbulence Structures'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this