Articles | Volume 11, issue 23
Research article
13 Dec 2011
Research article |  | 13 Dec 2011

A Lagrangian view of convective sources for transport of air across the Tropical Tropopause Layer: distribution, times and the radiative influence of clouds

A. Tzella and B. Legras

Abstract. The tropical tropopause layer (TTL) is a key region controlling transport between the troposphere and the stratosphere. The efficiency of transport across the TTL depends on the continuous interaction between the large-scale advection and the small-scale intermittent convection that reaches the Level of Zero radiative Heating (LZH). The wide range of scales involved presents a significant challenge to determine the sources of convection and quantify transport across the TTL. Here, we use a simple Lagrangian model, termed TTL detrainment model, that combines a large ensemble of 200-day back trajectory calculations with high-resolution fields of brightness temperatures (provided by the CLAUS dataset) in order to determine the ensemble of trajectories that are detrained from convective sources. The trajectories are calculated using the ECMWF ERA-Interim winds and radiative heating rates, and in order to establish the radiative influence of clouds, the latter rates are derived both under all-sky and clear-sky conditions.

We show that most trajectories are detrained near the mean LZH with the horizontal distributions of convective sources being highly-localized, even within the space defined by deep convection. As well as modifying the degree of source localization, the radiative heating from clouds facilitates the rapid upwelling of air across the TTL. However, large-scale motion near the fluctuating LZH can lead a significant proportion of trajectories to alternating clear-sky and cloudy regions, thus generating a large dispersion in the vertical transport times. The distributions of vertical transport times are wide and skewed and are largely insensitive to a bias of about ±1 km (∓5 K) in the altitude of cloud top heights (the main sensitivity appearing in the times to escape the immediate neighbourhood of the LZH) while some seasonal and regional transport characteristics are apparent for times up to 60 days. The strong horizontal mixing that characterizes the TTL ensures that most air of convective origin is well-mixed within the tropical and eventually within the extra-tropical lower-stratosphere.

Final-revised paper