Articles | Volume 16, issue 6
Research article
23 Mar 2016
Research article |  | 23 Mar 2016

A modelling case study of a large-scale cirrus in the tropical tropopause layer

Aurélien Podglajen, Riwal Plougonven, Albert Hertzog, and Bernard Legras

Abstract. We use the Weather Research and Forecast (WRF) model to simulate a large-scale tropical tropopause layer (TTL) cirrus in order to understand the formation and life cycle of the cloud. This cirrus event has been previously described through satellite observations by Taylor et al. (2011). Comparisons of the simulated and observed cirrus show a fair agreement and validate the reference simulation regarding cloud extension, location and life time. The validated simulation is used to understand the causes of cloud formation. It is shown that several cirrus clouds successively form in the region due to adiabatic cooling and large-scale uplift rather than from convective anvils. The structure of the uplift is tied to the equatorial response (equatorial wave excitation) to a potential vorticity intrusion from the midlatitudes.

Sensitivity tests are then performed to assess the relative importance of the choice of the microphysics parameterization and of the initial and boundary conditions. The initial dynamical conditions (wind and temperature) essentially control the horizontal location and area of the cloud. However, the choice of the microphysics scheme influences the ice water content and the cloud vertical position.

Last, the fair agreement with the observations allows to estimate the cloud impact in the TTL in the simulations. The cirrus clouds have a small but not negligible impact on the radiative budget of the local TTL. However, for this particular case, the cloud radiative heating does not significantly influence the simulated dynamics. This result is due to (1) the lifetime of air parcels in the cloud system, which is too short to significantly influence the dynamics, and (2) the fact that induced vertical motions would be comparable to or smaller than the typical mesoscale motions present. Finally, the simulation also provides an estimate of the vertical redistribution of water by the cloud and the results emphasize the importance in our case of both rehydration and dehydration in the vicinity of the cirrus.

Short summary
The Weather Research and Forecast model is used to simulate a large-scale tropical tropopause layer (TTL) cirrus. Validated with satellite observations, the simulation shows that several clouds successively form due to a large-scale uplift initiated by the intrusion of air from the midlatitudes. The simulated cloud field is found as sensitive to the initial condition as it is to the choice of the microphysics parametrisation. The cloud impacts on the radiative and water budgets are estimated.
Final-revised paper