05 Oct 2023
 | 05 Oct 2023

A Lagrangian Perspective on the Lifecycle and Cloud Radiative Effect of Deep Convective Clouds Over Africa

William K. Jones, Martin Stengel, and Philip Stier

Abstract. The anvil clouds of tropical deep convection have large radiative effects in both the shortwave (SW) and longwave (LW) spectra with the average magnitudes of both over 100 Wm-2. Despite this, due to the opposite sign of these fluxes, the net average of anvil cloud radiative effect (CRE) over the tropics has been found to be neutral. Research into the response of anvil CRE to climate change has primarily focused on the feedbacks of anvil cloud height and anvil cloud area, in particular regarding the LW feedback. However, tropical deep convection over land has a strong diurnal cycle which may couple with the shortwave component of anvil cloud radiative effect. As this diurnal cycle is poorly represented in climate models it is vital to gain a better understanding of how its changes impact anvil CRE.

To study the connection between deep convective cloud (DCC) lifecycle and CRE, we investigate the behaviour of both isolated and organised DCCs in a 4-month case study over sub-Saharan Africa (May–August 2016). Using a novel cloud tracking algorithm, we detect and track growing convective cores and their associated anvil clouds using geostationary satellite observations from Meteosat SEVIRI. Retrieved cloud properties and derived broadband radiative fluxes are provided by the CC4CL algorithm. By collecting the cloud properties of the tracked DCCs, we produce a dataset of anvil cloud properties along their lifetimes. While the majority of DCCs tracked in this dataset are isolated, with only a single core, the overall coverage of anvil clouds is dominated by those of clustered, multi-core anvils due to their larger areas and lifetimes.

We find that the distribution of anvil cloud CRE of our tracked DCCs has a bimodal distribution. The interaction between the lifecycles of DCCs and the diurnal cycle of insolation results in a wide range of SW anvil CRE, while the LW component remains in a comparatively narrow range of values. The CRE of individual anvil clouds varies widely, with isolated DCCs tending to have large negative or positive CREs while larger, organised systems tend to have CRE closer to zero. Despite this, we find that the net anvil cloud CRE across all tracked DCCs is indeed neutral within our range of uncertainty (0.86 ± 0.91 Wm-2). Changes in the lifecycle of DCCs, such as shifts in the time of triggering, or the length of the dissipating phase, could have large impacts on the SW anvil CRE and lead to complex responses that are not considered by theories of LW anvil CRE feedbacks.

William K. Jones et al.

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William K. Jones et al.

Data sets

Cloud-CCI+ SEVIRI CRE case study dataset William K. Jones

Model code and software

tobac-flow v1.7.6 William K. Jones

William K. Jones et al.


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Short summary
Storm clouds cover large areas of the tropics. These clouds both reflect incoming sunlight and trap heat from the atmosphere below, regulating the temperature of the tropics. Over land, storm clouds occur in the late afternoon and evening, and so exist both during the daytime and at night. Changes in this timing could upset the balance of the respective cooling and heating effects of these clouds. We find that isolated storms have a larger effect on this balance than their small size suggests.