Articles | Volume 10, issue 11
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 10, 5179–5190, 2010
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 10, 5179–5190, 2010

  11 Jun 2010

11 Jun 2010

Cirrus clouds triggered by radiation, a multiscale phenomenon

F. Fusina and P. Spichtinger F. Fusina and P. Spichtinger
  • ETH Zurich, Institute for Atmospheric and Climatic Science, Universitaetstrasse 16, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. In this study, the influence of radiative cooling and small eddies on cirrus formation is investigated. For this purpose the non-hydrostatic, anelastic model EULAG is used with a recently developed and validated ice microphysics scheme (Spichtinger and Gierens, 2009a). Additionally, we implemented a fast radiative transfer code (Fu et al., 1998). Using idealized profiles with high ice supersaturations up to 144% and weakly stable stratifications with Brunt-Vaisala frequencies down to 0.0018 s−1 within a supersaturated layer, the influence of radiation on the formation of cirrus clouds is remarkable. Due to the radiative cooling at the top of the ice supersaturated layer with cooling rates down to −3.5 K/d, the stability inside the ice supersaturated layer decreases with time. During destabilization, small eddies induced by Gaussian temperature fluctuations start to grow and trigger first nucleation. These first nucleation events then induce the growth of convective cells due to the radiative destabilization. The effects of increasing the local relative humidity by cooling due to radiation and adiabatic lifting lead to the formation of a cirrus cloud with IWC up to 33 mg/m3 and mean optical depths up to 0.36. In a more stable environment, radiative cooling is not strong enough to destabilize the supersaturated layer within 8 h; no nucleation occurs in this case.

Overall triggering of cirrus clouds via radiation works only if the supersaturated layer is destabilized by radiative cooling such that small eddies can grow in amplitude and finally initialize ice nucleation. Both processes on different scales, small-scale eddies and large-scale radiative cooling are necessary.

Final-revised paper