Comparing growth rates of simulated moist and dry convective thermals

Hugh Morrison, John M. Peters, Steven C. Sherwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The spreading rates of convective thermals are linked to their net entrainment, and previous literature has suggested differences in spreading rates between moist and dry thermals. In this study, growth rates of idealized numerically simulated axisymmetric dry and moist convective thermals are directly compared. In an environment with dry-neutral stratification, the increase of thermal radius with height dR/dz is a larger by a factor of 1.7 for dry thermals relative to moist thermals. The fractional change in thermal volume ϵ is also greater for dry thermals within a distance of ∼4 radii from the initial thermal height. Values of dR/dz are nearly constant with height for bothmoist and dry thermals consistent with classical theory based on dimensional analysis. The simulations are also consistent with theory relating impulse, circulation, and spreading rate for dry thermals proposed in previous papers and extended here to moist thermals, predicting they will spread less than dry thermals. Tests adding heating to dry thermals, either spread uniformly across the thermal volume or concentrated in the inner core, indicate that dR/dz and ϵ are smaller for moist thermals because latent heating is confined mostly to their cores. Additional axisymmetric moist simulations using modified lapse rates and large-eddy simulations support this analysis. Overall, these results indicate that slow spreading rates are a fundamental feature of moist thermals caused by latent heating that alters the spatial distribution of buoyancy within them relative to dry thermals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)797-816
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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