Articles | Volume 14, issue 14
Research article
18 Jul 2014
Research article |  | 18 Jul 2014

Balloon-borne match measurements of midlatitude cirrus clouds

A. Cirisan, B. P. Luo, I. Engel, F. G. Wienhold, M. Sprenger, U. K. Krieger, U. Weers, G. Romanens, G. Levrat, P. Jeannet, D. Ruffieux, R. Philipona, B. Calpini, P. Spichtinger, and T. Peter

Abstract. Observations of high supersaturations with respect to ice inside cirrus clouds with high ice water content (> 0.01 g kg−1) and high crystal number densities (> 1 cm−3) are challenging our understanding of cloud microphysics and of climate feedback processes in the upper troposphere. However, single measurements of a cloudy air mass provide only a snapshot from which the persistence of ice supersaturation cannot be judged. We introduce here the "cirrus match technique" to obtain information about the evolution of clouds and their saturation ratio. The aim of these coordinated balloon soundings is to analyze the same air mass twice. To this end the standard radiosonde equipment is complemented by a frost point hygrometer, "SnowWhite", and a particle backscatter detector, "COBALD" (Compact Optical Backscatter AerosoL Detector). Extensive trajectory calculations based on regional weather model COSMO (Consortium for Small-Scale Modeling) forecasts are performed for flight planning, and COSMO analyses are used as a basis for comprehensive microphysical box modeling (with grid scale of 2 and 7 km, respectively). Here we present the results of matching a cirrus cloud to within 2–15 km, realized on 8 June 2010 over Payerne, Switzerland, and a location 120 km downstream close to Zurich. A thick cirrus cloud was detected over both measurement sites. We show that in order to quantitatively reproduce the measured particle backscatter ratios, the small-scale temperature fluctuations not resolved by COSMO must be superimposed on the trajectories. The stochastic nature of the fluctuations is captured by ensemble calculations. Possibilities for further improvements in the agreement with the measured backscatter data are investigated by assuming a very slow mass accommodation of water on ice, the presence of heterogeneous ice nuclei, or a wide span of (spheroidal) particle shapes. However, the resulting improvements from these microphysical refinements are moderate and comparable in magnitude with changes caused by assuming different regimes of temperature fluctuations for clear-sky or cloudy-sky conditions, highlighting the importance of proper treatment of subscale fluctuations. The model yields good agreement with the measured backscatter over both sites and reproduces the measured saturation ratios with respect to ice over Payerne. Conversely, the 30% in-cloud supersaturation measured in a massive 4 km thick cloud layer over Zurich cannot be reproduced, irrespective of the choice of meteorological or microphysical model parameters. The measured supersaturation can only be explained by either resorting to an unknown physical process, which prevents the ice particles from consuming the excess humidity, or – much more likely – by a measurement error, such as a contamination of the sensor housing of the SnowWhite hygrometer by a precipitation drop from a mixed-phase cloud just below the cirrus layer or from some very slight rain in the boundary layer. This uncertainty calls for in-flight checks or calibrations of hygrometers under the special humidity conditions in the upper troposphere.

Final-revised paper