The diurnal stratocumulus-to-cumulus transition over land in southern West Africa

Xabier Pedruzo-Bagazgoitia*, Stephan R. De Roode, Bianca Adler, Karmen Babić, Cheikh Dione, Norbert Kalthoff, Fabienne Lohou, Marie Lothon, Jordi Vilà-Guerau De Arellano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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The misrepresentation of the diurnal cycle of boundary layer clouds by large-scale models strongly impacts the modeled regional energy balance in southern West Africa. In particular, recognizing the processes involved in the maintenance and transition of the nighttime stratocumulus to diurnal shallow cumulus over land remains a challenge. This is due to the fact that over vegetation, surface fluxes exhibit a much larger magnitude and variability than on the more researched marine stratocumulus transitions. An improved understanding of the interactions between surface and atmosphere is thus necessary to improve its representation. To this end, the Dynamics-aerosol-chemistry-cloud interactions in West Africa (DACCIWA) measurement campaign gathered a unique dataset of observations of the frequent stratocumulus-to-cumulus transition in southern West Africa. Inspired and constrained by these observations, we perform a series of numerical experiments using large eddy simulation. The experiments include interactive radiation and surface schemes where we explicitly resolve, quantify and describe the physical processes driving such transition. Focusing on the local processes, we quantify the transition in terms of dynamics, radiation, cloud properties, surface processes and the evolution of dynamically relevant layers such as subcloud layer, cloud layer and inversion layer. We further quantify the processes driving the stratocumulus thinning and the subsequent transition initiation by using a liquid water path budget. Finally, we study the impact of mean wind and wind shear at the cloud top through two additional numerical experiments. We find that the sequence starts with a nighttime well-mixed layer from the surface to the cloud top, in terms of temperature and humidity, and transitions to a prototypical convective boundary layer by the afternoon. We identify radiative cooling as the largest factor for the maintenance leading to a net thickening of the cloud layer of about 18 g m-2 h-1 before sunrise. Four hours after sunrise, the cloud layer decouples from the surface through a growing negative buoyancy flux at the cloud base. After sunrise, the increasing impact of entrainment leads to a progressive thinning of the cloud layer. While the effect of wind on the stratocumulus layer during nighttime is limited, after sunrise we find shear at the cloud top to have the largest impact: the local turbulence generated by shear enhances the boundary layer growth and entrainment aided by the increased surface fluxes. As a consequence, wind shear at the cloud top accelerates the breakup and transition by about 2 h. The quantification of the transition and its driving factors presented here sets the path for an improved representation by larger-scale models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2735-2754
Number of pages20
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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