Cirrus clouds and deep convection in the tropics: Insights from CALIPSO and...

Sassen, K., Z. Wang, and D. Liu (2009), Cirrus clouds and deep convection in the tropics: Insights from CALIPSO and CloudSat, J. Geophys. Res., 114, D00H06, doi:10.1029/2009JD011916.

Using a 2-year data set of combined lidar and cloud radar measurements from the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) and CloudSat satellites, the occurrence of tropical cirrus and deep convective clouds is studied. The cloud identification algorithm takes advantage of the ability of the radar to probe deep precipitating clouds and of the lidar to sample even subvisual cirrus clouds. Examined are the frequency of occurrence and the geographical distribution of these clouds, and their apparent interconnections. There is a strong apparent diurnal variability in tropical cirrus mainly over land, with significantly more cirrus detected at night compared to day, but no clear diurnal pattern in deep convective activity. CALIPSO daylight signal noise effects do not appear to be not responsible for the diurnal cirrus pattern, because high, thin tropopause transitional layer (TTL) cirrus do not show a clear diurnal effect. Stratifying the global results by estimated visible cloud optical depth t, we find that most of the planet’s subvisual (t < ~0.03) cirrus clouds occur in the tropics and are more frequent at night and over ocean; thin (~0.03 < t < ~0.3) cirrus have their highest global frequencies over equatorial landmasses and in the west Pacific region, and are also more frequent at night but occur mainly over land; and opaque (~0.3 < t < ~3.0) cirrus are spread globally and tend to occur during the day over ocean. Although it is unknown which of the several proposed cirrus cloud formation mechanisms are key in the tropics, the close association of cirrus with convective clouds implies that tropical cirrus are linked to deep convective activity, with the likely exception of TTL cirrus clouds.

PDF of Publication: 
Download from publisher's website.
Research Program: 
Radiation Science Program (RSP)