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Title: Exploring Subtropical Stratocumulus Multiple Equilibria Using a Mixed-Layer Model
Abstract Stratocumulus clouds cover about a fifth of Earth’s surface, and due to their albedo and low-latitude location, they have a strong effect on Earth’s radiation budget. Previous studies using large-eddy simulations have shown that multiple equilibria (both stratocumulus-covered and cloud-free/scattered cumulus states) exist as a function of fixed SST, with relevance to equatorward advected air masses. Multiple equilibria have also been found as a function of atmospheric CO 2 , with a subtropical SST nearly 10 K higher in the cloud-free state and with suggested relevance to warm climate dynamics. In this study, we use a mixed-layer model with an added surface energy balance and the ability to simulate both the stratocumulus (coupled) and cloud-free/scattered cumulus (decoupled) states using a “stacked” mixed-layer approach to study both types of multiple equilibria and the corresponding hysteresis. The model’s simplicity and computational efficiency allow us to qualitatively explore the mechanisms critical to the stratocumulus cloud instability and hysteresis as well as isolate key processes that allow for multiple equilibria via mechanism-denial experiments not possible with a full-complexity model. For the hysteresis in fixed SST, we find that decoupling can occur due to either enhanced entrainment warming or a reduction in cloud-top longwave cooling. The critical SST at which decoupling occurs is highly sensitive to precipitation and entrainment parameterizations. In the CO 2 hysteresis, decoupling occurs in the simple model used even without the inclusion of SST–cloud cover feedbacks, and the width of the hysteresis displays the same sensitivities as the fixed SST case. Overall, the simple model analysis and results motivate further studies using higher complexity models.  more » « less
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Journal Name:
Journal of Climate
Page Range / eLocation ID:
2421 to 2437
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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