Articles | Volume 10, issue 13
09 Jul 2010
 | 09 Jul 2010

Microphysical variability in southeast Pacific Stratocumulus clouds: synoptic conditions and radiative response

D. Painemal and P. Zuidema

Abstract. Synoptic and satellite-derived cloud property variations for the southeast Pacific stratocumulus region associated with changes in coastal satellite-derived cloud droplet number concentrations (Nd) are explored. MAX and MIN Nd composites are defined by the top and bottom terciles of daily area-mean Nd values over the Arica Bight, the region with the largest mean oceanic Nd, for the five October months of 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. The ability of the satellite retrievals to capture composite differences is assessed with ship-based data. Nd and ship-based accumulation mode aerosol concentrations (Na) correlate well (r = 0.65), with a best-fit aerosol activation value dln Nddln Na of 0.56 for pixels with Nd>50 cm−3. The adiabatically-derived MODIS cloud depths also correlate well with the ship-based cloud depths (r=0.7), though are consistently higher (mean bias of almost 60 m). The MAX-Nd composite is characterized by a weaker subtropical anticyclone and weaker winds both at the surface and the lower free troposphere than the MIN-Nd composite. The MAX-Nd composite clouds over the Arica Bight are thinner than the MIN-Nd composite clouds, have lower cloud tops, lower near-coastal cloud albedos, and occur below warmer and drier free tropospheres (as deduced from radiosondes and NCEP Reanalysis). CloudSat radar reflectivities indicate little near-coastal precipitation. The co-occurrence of more boundary-layer aerosol/higher Nd within a more stable atmosphere suggests a boundary layer source for the aerosol, rather than the free troposphere.

The MAX-Nd composite cloud thinning extends offshore to 80° W, with lower cloud top heights out to 95° W. At 85° W, the top-of-atmosphere shortwave fluxes are significantly higher (~50%) for the MAX-Nd composite, with thicker, lower clouds and higher cloud fractions than for the MIN-Nd composite. The change in Nd at this location is small (though positive), suggesting that the MAX-MIN Nd composite differences in radiative properties primarily reflects synoptic changes. Circulation anomalies and a one-point spatial correlation map reveal a weakening of the 850 hPa southerly winds decreases the free tropospheric cold temperature advection. The resulting increase in the static stability along 85° W is highly correlated to the increased cloud fraction, despite accompanying weaker free tropospheric subsidence.

Final-revised paper