Articles | Volume 16, issue 5
Research article
16 Mar 2016
Research article |  | 16 Mar 2016

A microphysics guide to cirrus clouds – Part 1: Cirrus types

Martina Krämer, Christian Rolf, Anna Luebke, Armin Afchine, Nicole Spelten, Anja Costa, Jessica Meyer, Martin Zöger, Jessica Smith, Robert L. Herman, Bernhard Buchholz, Volker Ebert, Darrel Baumgardner, Stephan Borrmann, Marcus Klingebiel, and Linnea Avallone

Abstract. The microphysical and radiative properties of cirrus clouds continue to be beyond understanding and thus still represent one of the largest uncertainties in the prediction of the Earth's climate (IPCC, 2013). Our study aims to provide a guide to cirrus microphysics, which is compiled from an extensive set of model simulations, covering the broad range of atmospheric conditions for cirrus formation and evolution. The model results are portrayed in the same parameter space as field measurements, i.e., in the Ice Water Content-Temperature (IWC-T) parameter space. We validate this cirrus analysis approach by evaluating cirrus data sets from 17 aircraft campaigns, conducted in the last 15 years, spending about 94 h in cirrus over Europe, Australia, Brazil as well as South and North America. Altogether, the approach of this study is to track cirrus IWC development with temperature by means of model simulations, compare with observations and then assign, to a certain degree, cirrus microphysics to the observations. Indeed, the field observations show characteristics expected from the simulated Cirrus Guide. For example, high (low) IWCs are found together with high (low) ice crystal concentrations Nice.

An important finding from our study is the classification of two types of cirrus with differing formation mechanisms and microphysical properties: the first cirrus type forms directly as ice (in situ origin cirrus) and splits in two subclasses, depending on the prevailing strength of the updraft: in slow updrafts these cirrus are rather thin with lower IWCs, while in fast updrafts thicker cirrus with higher IWCs can form. The second type consists predominantly of thick cirrus originating from mixed phase clouds (i.e., via freezing of liquid droplets – liquid origin cirrus), which are completely glaciated while lifting to the cirrus formation temperature region (< 235 K). In the European field campaigns, slow updraft in situ origin cirrus occur frequently in low- and high-pressure systems, while fast updraft in situ cirrus appear in conjunction with jet streams or gravity waves. Also, liquid origin cirrus mostly related to warm conveyor belts are found. In the US and tropical campaigns, thick liquid origin cirrus which are formed in large convective systems are detected more frequently.

Short summary
A guide to cirrus clouds is compiled from extensive model simulations and aircraft observations. Two types of cirrus are found: rather thin in situ cirrus that form directly as ice and thicker liquid origin cirrus consisting of uplifted frozen liquid drops. Over Europe, thinner in situ and liquid origin cirrus occur often together with frontal systems, while over the US and the Tropics, thick liquid origin cirrus formed in large convective systems are detected more frequently.
Final-revised paper