Upper tropospheric cloud systems derived from IR sounders: properties of cirrus anvils in the tropics
Abstract. Representing about 30 % of the Earth's total cloud cover, upper tropospheric clouds play a crucial role in the climate system by modulating the Earth's energy budget and heat transport. When originating from convection, they often form organized systems. The high spectral resolution of the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) allows reliable cirrus identification, both from day and nighttime observations. Tropical upper tropospheric cloud systems have been analyzed by using a spatial composite technique on the retrieved cloud pressure of AIRS data. Cloud emissivity is used to distinguish convective core, cirrus and thin cirrus anvil within these systems. A comparison with simultaneous precipitation data from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer – Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) shows that, for tropical upper tropospheric clouds, a cloud emissivity close to 1 is strongly linked to a high rain rate, leading to a proxy to identify convective cores. Combining AIRS cloud data with this cloud system approach, using physical variables, provides a new opportunity to relate the properties of the anvils, including also the thinner cirrus, to the convective cores. It also distinguishes convective cloud systems from isolated cirrus systems. Deep convective cloud systems, covering 15 % of the tropics, are further distinguished into single-core and multi-core systems. Though AIRS samples the tropics only twice per day, the evolution of longer-living convective systems can be still statistically captured, and we were able to select relatively mature single-core convective systems by using the fraction of convective core area within the cloud systems as a proxy for maturity. For these systems, we have demonstrated that the physical properties of the anvils are related to convective depth, indicated by the minimum retrieved cloud temperature within the convective core. Our analyses show that the size of the systems does in general increase with convective depth, though for similar convective depth oceanic convective cloud systems are slightly larger than continental ones, in agreement with other observations. In addition, our data reveal for the first time that the fraction of thin cirrus over the total anvil area increases with the convective depth similarly for oceanic and continental convective systems. This has implications for the radiative feedbacks of anvils on convection which will be more closely studied in the future.