14 Nov 2023
 | 14 Nov 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion and under review for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

Interactions between trade-wind clouds and local forcings over the Great Barrier Reef: A case study using convection-permitting simulations

Wenhui Zhao, Yi Huang, Steven Thomas Siems, Michael James Manton, and Daniel Patrick Harrison

Abstract. Trade-wind clouds are ubiquitous across the subtropical oceans, including the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), playing an important role in modulating the regional energy budget. These shallow clouds, however, are by their nature sensitive to perturbations in both their thermodynamic environment and microphysical background. In this study, we employ the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model with a convection-permitting configuration at 1 km resolution to examine the sensitivity of the trade-wind clouds to different local forcings over the GBR. A range of local forcings including coastal topography, sea surface temperature (SST), and local aerosol loading is examined.

Our simulations show a strong response of cloud fraction and accumulated precipitation to orographic forcing both over the mountains and upwind over the GBR. Orographic lifting and low-level convergence are found to be crucial in explaining the cloud and precipitation features over the coastal mountains downwind of the GBR. However, clouds over the upwind ocean are more strongly constrained by the trade wind inversion, whose properties are, in part, regulated by the coastal topography. On the scales considered in our study, the warm cloud fraction and the ensuant precipitation over the GBR show only a small response to the local SST forcing, with this response being tied to the simulated cloud type. Cloud microphysical properties, including cloud droplet number concentration, liquid water path, and precipitation are sensitive to the changes in atmospheric aerosol population over the GBR. While cloud fraction shows little responses, a slight deepening of the simulated clouds is evident over the upwind region in correspondence to the increased aerosol number concentration. A downwind effect of aerosol loading on simulated cloud and precipitation properties is further noted.

Wenhui Zhao et al.

Status: open (until 26 Dec 2023)

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Wenhui Zhao et al.


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Short summary
We studied how shallow clouds and rain behave over the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) using a detailed weather model. We found that the shape of the land, especially mountains, and particles in the air play big roles in influencing these clouds. Surprisingly, the sea's temperature had a smaller effect. Our research helps us understand the GBR's climate and how various factors can influence it, where the importance of the local cloud in thermal coral bleaching has recently been identified.