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Coupling between lower-tropospheric convective mixing and low-level clouds: Physical mechanisms and dependence on convection scheme

Abstract : Several studies have pointed out the dependence of low-cloud feedbacks on the strength of the lower-tropospheric convective mixing. By analyzing a series of single-column model experiments run by a climate model using two different convective parametrizations, this study elucidates the physical mechanisms through which marine boundary-layer clouds depend on this mixing in the present-day climate and under surface warming. An increased lower-tropospheric convective mixing leads to a reduction of low-cloud fraction. However, the rate of decrease strongly depends on how the surface latent heat flux couples to the convective mixing and to boundary-layer cloud radiative effects: (i) on the one hand, the latent heat flux is enhanced by the lower-tropospheric drying induced by the convective mixing, which damps the reduction of the low-cloud fraction, (ii) on the other hand, the latent heat flux is reduced as the lower tropo-sphere stabilizes under the effect of reduced low-cloud radiative cooling, which enhances the reduction of the low-cloud fraction. The relative importance of these two different processes depends on the closure of the convective parameterization. The convective scheme that favors the coupling between latent heat flux and low-cloud radiative cooling exhibits a stronger sensitivity of low-clouds to convective mixing in the present-day climate, and a stronger low-cloud feedback in response to surface warming. In this model, the low-cloud feedback is stronger when the present-day convective mixing is weaker and when present-day clouds are shallower and more radiatively active. The implications of these insights for constraining the strength of low-cloud feedbacks observationally is discussed.
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Jessica Vial, Sandrine Bony, Jean-Louis Dufresne, Romain Roehrig. Coupling between lower-tropospheric convective mixing and low-level clouds: Physical mechanisms and dependence on convection scheme. Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, American Geophysical Union, 2016, 8 (4), pp.1892 - 1911. ⟨10.1002/2016MS000740⟩. ⟨hal-01478855⟩

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