Microphysical properties and high ice water content in continental and oceanic mesoscale convective systems and potential implications for commercial aircraft at flight altitude
Abstract. Two complementary case studies are conducted to analyse convective system properties in the region where strong cloud-top lidar backscatter anomalies are observed as reported by Platt et al. (2011). These anomalies were reported for the first time using in situ microphysical measurements in an isolated continental convective cloud over Germany during the CIRCLE2 experiment (Gayet et al., 2012). In this case, in situ observations quasi-collocated with CALIPSO (Cloud Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation), CloudSat and Meteosat-9/SEVIRI observations confirm that regions of backscatter anomalies represent the most active and dense convective cloud parts with likely the strongest core updrafts and unusually high values of the particle concentration, extinction and ice water content (IWC), with the occurrence of small ice crystal sizes. Similar spaceborne observations of a maritime mesoscale cloud system (MCS) located off the Brazilian coast between 0° and 3° N latitude on 20 June 2008 are then analysed. Near cloud-top backscatter anomalies are evidenced in a region which corresponds to the coldest temperatures with maximum cloud top altitudes derived from collocated CALIPSO/IIR and Meteosat-9/SEVIRI infrared brightness temperatures. The interpretation of CALIOP (Cloud Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization) data highlights significant differences in microphysical properties from those observed in the continental isolated convective cloud. Indeed, SEVIRI (Spinning Enhanced Visible and InfraRed Imager) retrievals in the visible spectrum confirm much smaller ice particles near the top of the isolated continental convective cloud, i.e. effective radius (Reff) ~ 15 μm as opposed to 22–27 μm in the whole MCS area. Cloud profiling observations at 94 GHz from CloudSat are then used to describe the properties of the most active cloud regions at and below cloud top. The cloud ice-water content and effective radius retrieved with the CloudSat 2B-IWC and DARDAR (raDAR/liDAR) inversion techniques, show that at usual cruise altitudes of commercial aircraft (FL 350 or ~ 10 700 m level), high IWC (i.e. up to 2 to 4 g m−3) could be identified according to specific IWC–Z (Z being the reflectivity factor) relationships. These values correspond to a maximum reflectivity factor of +18 dBZ (at 94 GHz). Near-top cloud properties also indicate signatures of microphysical characteristics according to the cloud-stage evolution as revealed by SEVIRI images to identify the development of new cells within the MCS cluster. It is argued that the availability of real-time information (on the kilometre-scale) about cloud top IR brightness temperature decreases with respect to the cloud environment would help identify MCS cloud areas with potentially high ice water content and small particle sizes against which onboard meteorological radars may not be able to provide timely warning.