Mass-flux characteristics of tropical cumulus clouds from wind profiler observations at Darwin, Australia

Vickal V Kumar, Christian Jakob, Alain Protat, Christopher R Williams, Peter T May

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Cumulus parameterizations in weather and climate models frequently apply mass-flux schemes in their description of tropical convection. Mass flux constitutes the product of the fractional area covered by convection in a model grid box and the vertical velocity in cumulus clouds. However, vertical velocities are difficult to observe on GCM scales, making the evaluation of mass-flux schemes difficult. Here, the authors combine high-temporal-resolution observations of in-cloud vertical velocities derived from a pair of wind profilers over twowet seasons at Darwin with physical properties of precipitating clouds [cloud-top heights (CTH), convective-stratiform classification] derived from the Darwin C-band polarimetric radar to provide estimates of cumulus mass flux and its constituents. The length of this dataset allows for investigations of the contributions from different cumulus cloud types-namely, congestus, deep, and overshooting convection-to the overall mass flux and of the influence of large-scale conditions on mass flux. The authors found that mass flux was dominated by updrafts and, in particular, the updraft area fraction, with updraft vertical velocity playing a secondary role. The updraft vertical velocities peaked above 10 km where both the updraft area fractions and air densities were small, resulting in a marginal effect on mass-flux values. Downdraft area fractions are much smaller and velocities aremuch weaker than those in updrafts. The area fraction responded strongly to changes in midlevel large-scale vertical motion and convective inhibition (CIN). In contrast, changes in the lower-tropospheric relative humidity and convective available potential energy (CAPE) strongly modulate in-cloud vertical velocities but have moderate impacts on area fractions. Although average mass flux is found to increase with increasing CTH, it is the environmental conditions that seem to dictate the magnitude of mass flux produced by convection through a combination of effects on area fraction and velocity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1837-1855
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Convective clouds
  • Cumulus clouds
  • Mass fluxes/transport

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