Articles | Volume 15, issue 15
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 15, 9003–9029, 2015
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 15, 9003–9029, 2015

Research article 13 Aug 2015

Research article | 13 Aug 2015

An investigation of how radiation may cause accelerated rates of tropical cyclogenesis and diurnal cycles of convective activity

M. E. Nicholls M. E. Nicholls
  • University of Colorado, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Boulder, CO, USA

Abstract. Recent cloud-resolving numerical modeling results suggest that radiative forcing causes accelerated rates of tropical cyclogenesis and early intensification. Furthermore, observational studies of tropical cyclones have found that oscillations of the cloud canopy areal extent often occur that are clearly related to the solar diurnal cycle. A theory is put forward to explain these findings. The primary mechanism that seems responsible can be considered a refinement of the mechanism proposed by Gray and Jacobson (1977) to explain diurnal variations of oceanic tropical deep cumulus convection. It is hypothesized that differential radiative cooling or heating between a relatively cloud-free environment and a developing tropical disturbance generates circulations that can have very significant influences on convective activity in the core of the system. It is further suggested that there are benefits to understanding this mechanism by viewing it in terms of the lateral propagation of thermally driven gravity wave circulations, also known as buoyancy bores. Numerical model experiments indicate that mean environmental radiative cooling outside the cloud system is playing an important role in causing a significant horizontal differential radiative forcing and accelerating the rate of tropical cyclogenesis. As an expansive stratiform cloud layer forms aloft within a developing system the mean low-level radiative cooling is reduced, while at mid levels small warming occurs. During the daytime there is not a very large differential radiative forcing between the environment and the cloud system, but at nighttime when there is strong radiative clear-sky cooling of the environment it becomes significant. Thermally driven circulations develop, characterized by relatively weak subsidence in the environment but much stronger upward motion in the cloud system. This upward motion leads to a cooling tendency and increased relative humidity. The increased relative humidity at night appears to be a major factor in enhancing convective activity, thereby leading in the mean to an increased rate of genesis. It is postulated that the increased upward motion and relative humidity that occur throughout a deep layer aid both in the triggering of convection and in providing a more favorable local environment at mid levels for maintenance of buoyancy in convective cells due to a reduction of the detrimental effects of dry air entrainment. Additionally, the day/night modulations of the environmental radiative forcing appear to play a major role in the diurnal cycles of convective activity in the cloud system. It is shown that the upward velocity tendencies in the system core produced by the radiative forcing are extremely weak when compared to those produced by latent heat release in convective towers, but nevertheless over the course of a night they appear capable of significantly influencing convective activity.

Final-revised paper