Articles | Volume 13, issue 13
Research article
04 Jul 2013
Research article |  | 04 Jul 2013

Development and impact of hooks of high droplet concentration on remote southeast Pacific stratocumulus

R. C. George, R. Wood, C. S. Bretherton, and G. Painter

Abstract. Over the southeastern Pacific (SEP), droplet concentration (Nd) in the typically unpolluted marine stratocumulus west of 80° W (> 1000 km offshore) is periodically strongly enhanced in zonally elongated "hook"-shaped features that increase albedo. Here, we examine three hook events using the chemistry version of the Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF-Chem) with 14 km horizontal resolution, satellite data, and aircraft data from the VAMOS Ocean-Cloud-Atmosphere-Land Study Regional Experiment (VOCALS-REx). A particularly strong hook yields insights into the development, decay, and radiative impact of these features. Hook development occurs with Nd increasing to polluted levels over the remote ocean primarily due to entrainment of cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) from the lower free troposphere (FT). The feature advects northwestward until the FT CCN source is depleted, after which Nd decreases over a few days due to precipitation and dilution. The model suggests that the FT CCN source supplying the hook consists of high concentrations of small accumulation-mode aerosols that contribute a relatively small amount of aerosol mass to the MBL, in agreement with near-coast VOCALS measurements of polluted layers in the FT. The aerosol particles in this hook originate mainly from a pulse of offshore flow that transports Santiago-region (33–35° S) emissions to the remote marine FT.

To provide pollution CCN that can sustain hooks, the FT transport of pollution plumes to the remote ocean requires strong, deep offshore flow. Such flow is favored by a trough approaching the South American coast and a southeastward shift of the climatological subtropical high-pressure system. The model simulations show precipitation suppression in the hook and a corresponding increase in liquid water path (LWP) compared with a simulation without anthropogenic sources. LWP also increases as the hook evolves over time due to increasing stability and decreasing subsidence. WRF-Chem suggests that dimethyl sulfide (DMS) significantly influences the aerosol number and size distributions in a hook, but that hooks do not form without FT CCN. The Twomey effect contributes ~ 50–70% of the albedo increase due to the presence of the hook, while secondary aerosol indirect effects and meteorological influences also contribute significantly.

The source of hook aerosols is difficult to determine with the available observations alone. The model provides further explanation of the factors influencing hook formation. Two other weaker hooks during VOCALS-REx are not as well simulated but are also associated with FT offshore flow near Santiago. Hooks demonstrate the importance of free-tropospheric transport of aerosols in modulating the droplet concentration in the southeastern Pacific stratocumulus deck, and present a formidable challenge to simulate accurately in large-scale models.

Final-revised paper