02 Mar 2022
02 Mar 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Tropical cirrus clouds of convective and non-convective origins

Qin Huang and Tra Dinh Qin Huang and Tra Dinh
  • Department of Physics, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

Abstract. The occurrence of cirrus clouds in the tropics (24 °S–24 °N) is analyzed using the 2007–2015 monthly data from the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) and the fifth generation reanalysis product (ERA5) of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. In most cirrus clouds, the specific humidity (SPH) is larger than in cloud-free air and/or the temperature is smaller than in cloud-free air. Both positive SPH perturbations and negative temperature perturbations increase the relative humidity, resulting in favorable conditions for the formation and maintenance of clouds. The clouds in which there are positive SPH perturbations are considered to originate from convection. This is because, in the free troposphere, positive SPH anomalies are largely produced by the upward transport of moisture by convection followed by detrainment of the convective plumes. The remaining clouds that are not directly influenced by convection are driven by negative temperature perturbations. These temperature-driven clouds are formed and maintained in the cold phases of gravity waves and/or by the adiabatic cooling associated with the upwelling branch of the Brewer–Dobson circulation. Averaged over all altitudes of the tropical atmosphere, there are about three times more convective cirrus than non-convective ones. The level of maximum convective cirrus occurrence is at 14 km, i.e., the bottom of the tropical tropopause layer (TTL). Non-convective cirrus obtain their maximum frequency of occurrence at about 16 km, which is below the cold point tropopause (CPT). The seasonal cycle of convective cirrus is consistent with that of tropical convection, while the seasonal cycle of non-convective cirrus in the TTL is consistent with that of the CPT. There are two maxima in the frequency of occurrence of convective cirrus, one at around 10 °S in the austral summer, and the other at around 10 °N in the boreal summer. In contrast, non-convective cirrus occur most frequently near the equator in the boreal winter. The ice water content (IWC) in both convective and non-convective cirrus increases with increasing temperature (decreasing altitude). Thus, non-convective cirrus—which on average occur at lower temperatures (higher altitudes)—tend to have lower IWCs than convective cirrus.

Qin Huang and Tra Dinh

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on acp-2022-146', Blaž Gasparini, 20 Mar 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on acp-2022-146', Anonymous Referee #2, 11 Apr 2022

Qin Huang and Tra Dinh

Qin Huang and Tra Dinh


Total article views: 319 (including HTML, PDF, and XML)
HTML PDF XML Total BibTeX EndNote
223 86 10 319 6 3
  • HTML: 223
  • PDF: 86
  • XML: 10
  • Total: 319
  • BibTeX: 6
  • EndNote: 3
Views and downloads (calculated since 02 Mar 2022)
Cumulative views and downloads (calculated since 02 Mar 2022)

Viewed (geographical distribution)

Total article views: 354 (including HTML, PDF, and XML) Thereof 354 with geography defined and 0 with unknown origin.
Country # Views %
  • 1
Latest update: 27 May 2022
Short summary
The roles of convection and non-convective processes in driving the occurrence of cirrus clouds in the tropics are quantified. We found that three quarters of tropical cirrus originate from convection. The remaining cirrus are driven by negative temperature anomalies associated with waves and/or the adiabatic cooling associated with the upwelling of the Brewer–Dobson circulation. The findings would be helpful to guide development of models to improve their representation of cirrus clouds.