A New Look at the Daily Cycle of Trade Wind Cumuli

J Adv Model Earth Syst. 2019 Oct;11(10):3148-3166. doi: 10.1029/2019MS001746. Epub 2019 Oct 16.


A description of the daily cycle of oceanic shallow cumulus for undisturbed boreal winter conditions in the North Atlantic trades is presented. Modern investigation tools are used, including storm-resolving and large-eddy simulations, runover large domains in realistic configurations, and observations from in situ measurements and satellite-based retrievals. Models and observations clearly show pronounced diurnal variations in cloudiness, both near cloud base and below the trade inversion. The daily cycle reflects the evolution of two cloud populations: (i) a population of nonprecipitating small cumuli with weak vertical extent, which grows during the day and maximizes around sunset, and (ii) a population o deeper precipitating clouds with a stratiform cloud layer below the trade inversion, which grows during the night and maximizes just before sunrise. Previous studies have reported that cloudiness near cloud base undergoes weak variations on time scales longer than a day. However, here we find that it can vary strongly at the diurnal time scale. This daily cycle could serve as a critical test of the models' representation of the physical processes controlling cloudiness near cloud base, which is thought to be key for the determination of the Earth's climate response to warming.

Keywords: daily cycle; diurnal time scale; high‐resolution models; observations; shallow clouds; trade wind cumuli.