National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2022

From sugar to flowers: A transition of shallow cumulus organization during ATOMIC

Narenpitak, P., J. Kazil, T. Yamaguchi, P.K. Quinn, and G. Feingold

J. Adv. Model. Earth Syst., 13(10), e2021MS002619, doi: 10.1029/2021MS002619, View online (open access) (2021)

The Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign (ATOMIC) took place in January–February, 2020. It was designed to understand the relationship between shallow convection and the large-scale environment in the trade-wind regime. A Lagrangian large eddy simulation, following the trajectory of a boundary-layer airmass, can reproduce a transition of trade cumulus organization from “sugar” to “flower” clouds with cold pools, observed on February 2–3. The simulation is driven with reanalysis large-scale meteorology, and in-situ aerosol data from ATOMIC and its joint field study EUREC4A. During the transition, large-scale upward motion deepens the cloud layer. The total water path and optical depth increase, especially in the moist regions where flowers aggregate. This is due to mesoscale circulation that renders a net convergence of total water in the already moist and cloudy regions, strengthening the organization. An additional simulation shows that stronger large scale upward motion reinforces the mesoscale circulation and accelerates the organization process by strengthening the cloud-layer mesoscale buoyant turbulence kinetic energy production.

Plain Language Summary. Fair-weather shallow clouds have different sizes and cloud properties. A field study called the Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign (ATOMIC) and Elucidating the Role of Clouds-Circulation Coupling in Climate (EUREC4A) was designed to further understand the properties of these clouds. On February 2–3, very small and shallow “sugar” clouds grow into wider and deeper “flower” cloud clusters, no more than 3 km high. The clear spaces between the clouds expand. This study finds that local air circulation is responsible for making the moist and cloudy areas moister, and dry and cloud-free areas drier, enabling a process responsible for this transition. The large-scale vertical winds modulate the rate and strength of this process, which occurs locally at smaller scales.

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