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The Relative Influence of Aerosols and the Environment on Organized Tropical and Midlatitude Deep Convection

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February 14, 2014
Leah Grant
Hosted by Sue van den Heever (advisor), Dick Johnson, Jay Ham (Soil and Crop Sciences)


In this two-part study, the relative impacts of aerosols and the environment on organized deep convection, including tropical sea-breeze convection and midlatitude supercellular and multicellular deep convection, are investigated within idealized cloud-resolving modeling simulations using the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System (RAMS). Part one explores aerosol-cloud-land surface interactions within tropical deep convection organized along a sea breeze front. The idealized RAMS domain setup is representative of the coastal Cameroon rainforest in equatorial Africa. In order to assess the potential sensitivity of sea-breeze convection to increasing anthropogenic activity and deforestation occurring in such regions, 27 total simulations are performed in which combinations of enhanced aerosol concentrations, reduced surface roughness length, and reduced soil moisture are included. Both enhanced aerosols and reduced soil moisture are found to individually reduce the precipitation due to reductions in downwelling shortwave radiation and surface latent heat fluxes, respectively, while perturbations to the roughness length do not have a large impact on the precipitation. The largest soil moisture perturbations dominate the precipitation changes due to reduced low-level moisture available to the convection, but if the soil moisture perturbation is moderate, synergistic interactions between soil moisture and aerosols enhance the sea breeze precipitation. This is found to result from evening convection that forms ahead of the sea breeze only when both effects are present. Interactions between the resulting gust fronts and the sea breeze front locally enhance convergence and therefore the rainfall.

Part two of this study investigates the relative roles of midlevel dryness and aerosols on supercellular and multicellular convective morphology. A common storm-splitting situation is simulated wherein the right-moving storm becomes a dominant supercell and the left-moving storm evolves into a multicellular cluster. The right-mover, which is a classic (CL) supercell in the control simulation, becomes a low-precipitation (LP) supercell with increasing dryness aloft. Different midlevel hail growth mechanisms are found to dominate in the CL and LPs that assist in explaining their varying surface precipitation distributions. Although the CL and LP supercells are dynamically similar, their microphysical structure differs due to the strong control that midlevel dryness exerts on supercell morphology; aerosols have little impact on the supercellular structure. On the other hand, while midlevel dryness also dominates the changes to the multicellular convection, aerosols influence the precipitation through feedbacks to the cold pool strength and subsequent dynamical forcing.

Overall, aerosol impacts are largest for the most weakly organized convection (tropical sea breeze convection) and smallest for strongly dynamic convection (supercells). Additionally, aerosol impacts are modulated by environmental influences, most notably soil moisture availability and midlevel moisture content in this study.