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B4 - Radiative heating and cooling at cloud scale and its impact on dynamics

Principal investigator: Prof. Dr. Bernhard Mayer

Other researchers: Mares Barekzai (PhD), Nina Crnivec (PhD)


Clouds are important sources and sinks of diabatic heat, not only in terms of latent heat release but also with respect to absorption of solar radiation as well as absorption and emission of thermal radiation. Additionally, cloud shadows on the ground modify surface heating and thus sensible and latent heat fluxes.

Although it has been demonstrated that cloud top cooling may reach values of several 100 K/day and that this may have a strong impact on cloud microphysics and local cloud evolution, it has not been demonstrated that there is actually an effect on weather, larger scale dynamics, and on atmospheric flow. This is even more true for radiative cooling from cloud sides which has been shown to reach values comparable to cloud top cooling but is completely neglected by any (one-dimensional) radiation scheme in current NWP or climate models. Radiation firstly affects the growth of cloud droplets, increasing (in case of thermal cooling) or decreasing (in case of solar heating) the rate by which they dissipate the energy released by latent heat. Secondly, the surrounding air is cooled or heated which directly feeds back on dynamics.

The aim of the project is to study the question if realistic, three-dimensional radiative heating rates have an impact on cloud formation, and if there is an impact on atmospheric flow beyond cloud scale.

To answer these questions, a reasonably fast but accurate representation of radiative heating rates in clouds will be developed for a cloud scale (EULAG) and an NWP model (COSMO). The project builds upon our previous work on three-dimensional heating and cooling rates and on development of reasonably fast approximations. A parameterization of heating rates depends strongly on the scale. For a cloud-resolving model like EULAG with a 100 m grid size and smaller, different approaches are needed compared to a numerical weather forecast model like COSMO: A cloud-resolving model allows properly resolving the radiation processes, but three-dimensional radiation transport requires interaction between many grid columns in the calculation which is a challenge for parallelization. The resolution of COSMO, on the other hand, requires parameterization of un-resolved cloud edge effects and sub-pixel cloudiness, but would need less interaction between individual grid columns.

As a first step, we will study the impact of radiative heating and cooling in clouds on local circulation at cloud scale. For that purpose, an accurate yet fast approximation for 3D solar and thermal heating and cooling rates will be developed for the EULAG model in order to systematically study effects for a set of cloud-resolving simulations.

Second, we will study the impact on atmospheric flow, in particular the question if local heating and cooling rates impact dynamics beyond "introducing noise"; for that purpose a parameterization of 3D solar and thermal heating and cooling rates will be developed for the COSMO model. The project directly addresses research question B1 and directly interacts with a number of projects in Research Area B, but it also provides one of the sources of diabatic heating and cooling required for several projects in Research Area A.