Climatology of Stratocumulus Cloud Morphologies: Microphysical Properties and Radiative Effects

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015
Isabel L. McCoy, University of Washington, Seattle, WA; and A. Muhlbauer and R. Wood

An artificial neural network cloud classification scheme is combined with select observations from NASA's A-Train satellites, enabling characterization of the physical properties and radiative effects of low clouds based on their morphology and type of mesoscale cellular convection (MCC). This characterization was performed on a global scale for a year of data (2008) and employed three cloud morphological categories: (i) organized closed MCC, (ii) organized open MCC and (iii) cellular but disorganized MCC.

Global distributions of the frequency of occurrence of MCC types show clear regional signatures. Organized closed and open MCCs are most frequently found in subtropical regions and in midlatitude storm tracks of both hemispheres. Cellular but disorganized MCC are the predominant type of marine low clouds in regions with warmer sea surface temperature such as in the tropics and trade wind zones. All MCC types exhibit a pronounced seasonal cycle.

The physical properties of MCCs such as cloud fraction, radar reflectivity, drizzle rates and cloud top heights as well as the radiative effects of MCCs are found highly variable and a function of the type of MCC. On a global scale, the cloud fraction is largest for closed MCC with mean cloud fractions of about 90%, whereas cloud fractions of open and cellular but disorganized MCC are only about 51% and 40%, respectively.

Probability density functions (PDFs) of cloud fractions are heavily skewed and exhibit modest regional variability. PDFs of column maximum radar reflectivities and inferred cloud base drizzle rates indicate fundamental differences in the cloud and precipitation characteristics of different MCC types. Similarly, the radiative effects of MCCs differ substantially from each other in terms of shortwave reflectance and transmissivity. These differences highlight the importance of low-cloud morphologies and their associated cloudiness on the shortwave cloud forcing.