Articles | Volume 10, issue 9
03 May 2010
 | 03 May 2010

The sensitivity of stratocumulus-capped mixed layers to cloud droplet concentration: do LES and mixed-layer models agree?

J. Uchida, C. S. Bretherton, and P. N. Blossey

Abstract. The sensitivity of a stratocumulus-capped mixed layer to a change in cloud droplet concentration is evaluated with a large-eddy simulation (LES) and a mixed layer model (MLM). The strength of the second aerosol indirect effect simulated by the two model types agrees within 50% for cases in which the LES-simulated boundary layer remains well mixed, if the MLM entrainment closure includes the effects of cloud droplet sedimentation.

To achieve this agreement, parameters in the MLM entrainment closure and the drizzle parameterization must be retuned to match the LES. This is because the LES advection scheme and microphysical parameterization significantly bias the entrainment rate and precipitation profile compared to observational best guesses. Before this modification, the MLM simulates more liquid water path and much more drizzle at a given droplet concentration than the LES and is more sensitive to droplet concentration, even undergoing a drizzle-induced boundary layer collapse at low droplet concentrations. After this modification, both models predict a comparable decrease of cloud liquid water path as droplet concentration increases, cancelling 30–50% of the Twomey effect for our case. The agreement breaks down at the lowest simulated droplet concentrations, for which the boundary layer in the LES is not well mixed.

Our results highlight issues with both types of model. Potential LES biases due to inadequate resolution, subgrid mixing and parameterized microphysics must be carefully considered when trying to make a quantitative inference of the second indirect effect from an LES of a stratocumulus-topped boundary layer. On the other hand, even slight internal decoupling of the boundary layer invalidates the central assumption of an MLM, substantially limiting the range of conditions that MLM-predicted sensitivities to droplet concentration are meaningful.

Final-revised paper