Articles | Volume 13, issue 5
Research article
05 Mar 2013
Research article |  | 05 Mar 2013

A comparative study of the response of modeled non-drizzling stratocumulus to meteorological and aerosol perturbations

J. L. Petters, H. Jiang, G. Feingold, D. L. Rossiter, D. Khelif, L. C. Sloan, and P. Y. Chuang

Abstract. The impact of changes in aerosol and cloud droplet concentration (Na and Nd) on the radiative forcing of stratocumulus-topped boundary layers (STBLs) has been widely studied. How these impacts compare to those due to variations in meteorological context has not been investigated in a systematic fashion for non-drizzling overcast stratocumulus. In this study we examine the impact of observed variations in meteorological context and aerosol state on daytime, non-drizzling overcast stratiform evolution, and determine how resulting changes in cloud properties compare.

Using large-eddy simulation (LES) we create a model base case of daytime southeast Pacific coastal stratocumulus, spanning a portion of the diurnal cycle (early morning to near noon) and constrained by observations taken during the VOCALS (VAMOS Ocean-Atmosphere-Land Study) field campaign. We perturb aerosol and meteorological properties around this base case to investigate the stratocumulus response. We determine perturbations in the cloud top jumps in potential temperature θ and total water mixing ratio qt from ECMWF Re-analysis Interim data, and use a set of Nd values spanning the observable range. To determine the cloud response to these meteorological and aerosol perturbations, we compute changes in liquid water path (LWP), bulk optical depth (τ) and cloud radiative forcing (CRF).

We find that realistic variations in the thermodynamic jump properties can elicit a response in the cloud properties of τ and shortwave (SW) CRF that are on the same order of magnitude as the response found due to realistic changes in aerosol state (i.e Nd). In response to increases in Nd, the cloud layer in the base case thinned due to increases in evaporative cooling and entrainment rate. This cloud thinning somewhat mitigates the increase in τ resulting from increases in Nd. On the other hand, variations in θ and qt jumps did not substantially modify Nd. The cloud layer thickens in response to an increase in the θ jump and thins in response to an increase in the qt jump, both resulting in a τ and SW CRF response comparable to those found from perturbations in Nd. Longwave CRF was not substantially altered by the perturbations we tested.

We find that realistic variations in meteorological context can elicit a response in CRF and τ on the same order of magnitude as, and at times larger than, that response found due to realistic changes in aerosol state. We estimate the limits on variability of cloud top jump properties required for accurate observation of aerosol SW radiative impacts on stratocumulus, and find strict constraints: less than 1 K and 1 g kg−1 in the early morning hours, and order 0.1 K and 0.1 g kg−1 close to solar noon. These constraints suggest that accurately observing aerosol radiative impacts in stratocumulus may be challenging as co-variation of meteorological properties may obfuscate aerosol-cloud interactions.

Final-revised paper