Articles | Volume 16, issue 1
Research article
14 Jan 2016
Research article |  | 14 Jan 2016

Observational estimates of detrainment and entrainment in non-precipitating shallow cumulus

M. S. Norgren, J. D. Small, H. H. Jonsson, and P. Y. Chuang

Abstract. Vertical transport associated with cumulus clouds is important to the redistribution of gases, particles, and energy, with subsequent consequences for many aspects of the climate system. Previous studies have suggested that detrainment from clouds can be comparable to the updraft mass flux, and thus represents an important contribution to vertical transport. In this study, we describe a new method to deduce the amounts of gross detrainment and entrainment experienced by non-precipitating cumulus clouds using aircraft observations. The method utilizes equations for three conserved variables: cloud mass, total water, and moist static energy. Optimizing these three equations leads to estimates of the mass fractions of adiabatic mixed-layer air, entrained air and detrained air that the sampled cloud has experienced. The method is applied to six flights of the CIRPAS Twin Otter during the Gulf of Mexico Atmospheric Composition and Climate Study (GoMACCS) which took place in the Houston, Texas region during the summer of 2006 during which 176 small, non-precipitating cumuli were sampled. Using our novel method, we find that, on average, these clouds were comprised of 30 to 70 % mixed-layer air, with entrained air comprising most of the remainder. The mass fraction of detrained air was usually very small, less than 2 %, although values larger than 10 % were found in 15 % of clouds. Entrained and detrained air mass fractions both increased with altitude, consistent with some previous observational studies. The largest detrainment events were almost all associated with air that was at their level of neutral buoyancy, which has been hypothesized in previous modeling studies. This new method could be readily used with data from other previous aircraft campaigns to expand our understanding of detrainment for a variety of cloud systems.

Short summary
Clouds transport air from near the surface to higher altitudes. However, the amount of air transported in this way is poorly understood. In this study, measurements from aircraft of small clouds over Texas show that the amount is limited to the volume of the visible cloud and not more. This means that these clouds are not very effective at transporting pollution and moisture to upper reaches of the atmosphere, which in turn affects their redistribution and wider impact.
Final-revised paper