Journal or chapter

Earth-system-model evaluation of cloud and precipitation occurrence for supercooled and warm clouds over the Southern Ocean’s Macquarie Island

Over the remote Southern Ocean (SO), cloud feedbacks contribute substantially to Earth system model (ESM) radiative biases. The evolution of low Southern Ocean clouds (cloud-top heights < ∼ 3 km) is strongly modulated by precipitation and/or evaporation, which act as the primary sink of cloud condensate. Constraining precipitation processes in ESMs requires robust observations suitable for process-level evaluations. A year-long subset (April 2016–March 2017) of ground-based profiling instrumentation deployed during the Macquarie Island Cloud and Radiation Experiment (MICRE) field campaign (54.5◦ S, 158.9◦ E) combines a 95 GHz (W-band) Doppler cloud radar, two lidar ceilometers, and balloon-borne soundings to quantify the occurrence frequency of precipitation from the liquid-phase cloud base. Liquid-based clouds at Macquarie Island precipitate ∼ 70 % of the time, with deeper and colder clouds precipitating more frequently and at a higher intensity compared to thinner and warmer clouds. Supercooled cloud layers precipitate more readily than layers with cloud-top temperatures > 0 ◦C, regardless of the geometric thickness of the layer, and also evaporate more frequently. We further demonstrate an approach to employ these observational constraints for evaluation of a 9-year GISSModelE3 ESM simulation. Model output is processed through the Earth Model Column Collaboratory (EMC2 ) radar and lidar instrument simulator with the same instrument specifications as those deployed during MICRE, therefore accounting for instrument sensitivities and ensuring a coherent comparison. Relative to MICRE observations, the ESM produces a smaller cloud occurrence frequency, smaller precipitation occurrence frequency, and greater sub-cloud evaporation. The lower precipitation occurrence frequency by the ESM relative to MICRE contrasts with numerous studies that suggest a ubiquitous bias by ESMs to precipitate too frequently over the SO when compared with satellite-based observations, likely owing to sensitivity limitations of spaceborne instrumentation and different sampling methodologies for ground- versus space-based observations. Despite these deficiencies, the ESM reproduces the observed tendency for deeper and colder clouds to precipitate more frequently and at a higher intensity. The ESM also reproduces specific cloud regimes, including near-surface clouds that account for ∼ 25 % of liquid-based clouds during MICRE and optically thin, non-precipitating clouds that account for ∼ 27 % of clouds with bases higher than 250 m. We suggest that the demonstrated framework, which merges observations with appropriately constrained model output, is a valuable approach to evaluate processes responsible for cloud radiative feedbacks in ESMs.


Observing cloud and aerosol interactions