Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 10, 16475-16496, 2010
© Author(s) 2010. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
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This discussion paper has been under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP). Please refer to the corresponding final paper in ACP.
Deep convective clouds at the tropopause
H. H. Aumann1 and S. G. DeSouza-Machado2
1California Institute of Technology, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, CA, USA
2Department of Physics, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, MD, USA

Abstract. Data from the Advanced Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on the EOS Aqua spacecraft identify thousands of cloud tops colder than 225 K, loosely referred to as Deep Convective Clouds (DCC). Many of these cloud tops have "inverted" spectra, i.e. areas of strong water vapor, CO2 and ozone opacity, normally seen in absorption, are now seen in emission. We refer to these inverted spectra as DCCi. They are found in about 0.4% of all spectra from the tropical oceans excluding the Western Tropical Pacific (WTP), 1.1% in the WTP. The cold clouds are the anvils capping thunderstorms and consist of optically thick cirrus ice clouds. The precipitation rate associated with DCCi suggests that imbedded in these clouds, protruding above them, and not spatially resolved by the AIRS 15 km FOV, are even colder bubbles, where strong convection pushes clouds to within 5 hPa of the pressure level of the tropopause cold point. Associated with DCCi is a local upward displacement of the tropopause, a cold "bulge", which can be seen directly in the brightness temperatures of AIRS and AMSU channels with weighting function peaking between 40 and 2 hPa, without the need for a formal temperature retrieval. The bulge is not resolved by the analysis in numerical weather prediction models. The locally cold cloud tops relative to the analysis give the appearance (in the sense of an "illusion") of clouds overshooting the tropopause and penetrating into the stratosphere. Based on a simple model of optically thick cirrus clouds, the spectral inversions seen in the AIRS data do not require these clouds to penetrate into the stratosphere. However, the contents of the cold bulge may be left in the lower stratosphere as soon as the strong convection subsides. The heavy precipitation and the distortion of the temperature structure near the tropopause indicate that DCCi are associated with intense storms. Significant long-term trends in the statistical properties of DCCi could be interesting indicators of climate change.

Citation: Aumann, H. H. and DeSouza-Machado, S. G.: Deep convective clouds at the tropopause, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 10, 16475-16496, doi:10.5194/acpd-10-16475-2010, 2010.
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