On the origin of subvisible cirrus clouds in the tropical upper troposphere
1CNES, Laboratoire de Meteorologie Dynamique (IPSL), UMR8539, Ecole Polytechnique, 91128 Palaiseau, France
2CNRS, Laboratoire de Meteorologie Dynamique (IPSL), UMR8539, Ecole Polytechnique, 91128 Palaiseau, France
3UPMC, Laboratoire de Meteorologie Dynamique (IPSL), UMR8539, Ecole Polytechnique, 91128 Palaiseau, France
Abstract. Spaceborne lidar observations have recently revealed a previously undetected significant population of SubVisible Cirrus (SVC). We show them to be colder than −74 °C, with an optical depth below 0.0015 on average. The formation and persistence over time of this new cloud population could be related to several atmospheric phenomena. In this paper, we investigate the importance of external processes in the creation of this cloud population, vs. the traditional ice cloud formation theory through convection. The importance of three scenarios in the formation of the global SVC population is investigated through different approaches that include comparisons with data imaging from several spaceborne instruments and back-trajectories that document the history and behavior of air masses leading to a point in time and space where subvisible cirrus were detected. In order simplify the study of cloud formation processes, we singled out SVC with coherent temperature histories (mean variance lower than 4 K) according to back-trajectories along 5, 10 or 15 days (respectively 58, 25 and 11% of SVC). Our results suggest that external processes, including local increases in liquid and hygroscopic aerosol concentration (either through biomass burning or volcanic injection forming sulfate-based aerosols in the troposphere or the stratosphere) have no noticeable short-term or mid-term impact on the SVC population. On the other hand, we find that ~60% of air masses interacted with convective activity in the days before they led to cloud formation and detection, which correspond to 37 to 65% of SVC. These results put forward the important influence of classical cloud formation processes compared to external influences in forming SVC. They support the view that the SVC population observed by CALIOP is an extension of the general upper tropospheric ice clouds population with its extreme thinness as its only differentiating factor.