Competition between core and periphery-based processes in warm convective clouds – from invigoration to suppression
Abstract. How do changes in the amount and properties of aerosol affect warm clouds? Recent studies suggest that they have opposing effects. Some suggest that an increase in aerosol loading leads to enhanced evaporation and therefore smaller clouds, whereas other studies suggest clouds' invigoration. In this study, using an axisymmetric bin-microphysics cloud model, we propose a theoretical scheme that analyzes the evolution of key processes in warm clouds, under different aerosol loading and environmental conditions, to explain this contradiction.
Such an analysis of the key processes reveals a robust reversal in the trend of the clouds' response to an increase in aerosol loading. When aerosol conditions are shifted from superpristine to slightly polluted, the clouds formed are deeper and have larger water mass. Such a trend continues up to an optimal concentration (Nop) that allows the cloud to achieve a maximal water mass. Hence, for any concentration below Nop the cloud formed contains less mass and therefore can be considered as aerosol-limited, whereas for concentrations greater thanNop cloud periphery processes, such as enhanced entrainment and evaporation, take over leading to cloud suppression. We show that Nop is a function of the thermodynamic conditions (temperature and humidity profiles). Thus, profiles that favor deeper clouds would dictate larger values of Nop, whereas for profiles of shallow convective clouds, Nop corresponds to the pristine range of the aerosol loading.
Such a view of a trend reversal, marked by the optimal concentration, Nop, helps one to bridge the gap between the contradictory results of numerical models and observations. Satellite studies are biased in favor of larger clouds that are characterized by larger Nop values and therefore invigoration is observed. On the other hand, modeling studies of cloud fields are biased in favor of small, mostly trade-like convective clouds, which are characterized by low Nop values (in the pristine range) and, therefore, cloud suppression is mostly reported as a response to an increase in aerosol loading.