The observation and representation in general circulation models (GCMs) of cloud vertical overlap are the objects of active research due to their impacts on the earth's radiative budget. Previous studies have found that vertically contiguous cloudy layers show a maximum overlap between layers up to several kilometers apart but tend toward a random overlap as separations increase. The decorrelation length scale that characterizes the progressive transition from maximum to random overlap changes from one location and season to another and thus may be influenced by large-scale vertical motion, wind shear, or convection. Observations from the U.S. Department of Energy Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program ground-based radars and lidars in midlatitude and tropical locations in combination with reanalysis meteorological fields are used to evaluate how dynamics and atmospheric state influence cloud overlap. For midlatitude winter months, strong synoptic-scale upward motion maintains conditions closer to maximum overlap at large separations. In the tropics, overlap becomes closer to maximum as convective stability decreases. In midlatitude subsidence and tropical convectively stable situations, where a smooth transition from maximum to random overlap is found on average, large wind shears sometimes favor minimum overlap. Precipitation periods are discarded from the analysis but, when included, maximum overlap occurs more often at large separations. The results suggest that a straightforward modification of the existing GCM mixed maximum-random overlap parameterization approach that accounts for environmental conditions can capture much of the important variability and is more realistic than approaches that are only based on an exponential decay transition from maximum to random overlap.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Atmospheric Science