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The spatial scale of convective aggregation in cloud-resolving simulations of radiative-convective equilibrium




Patrizio, Casey, author
Randall, David, advisor
Thompson, David, advisor
Kirkpatrick, Allan, committee member

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A three-dimensional cloud-resolving model (CRM) was used to investigate the preferred separation distance between humid, rainy regions formed by convective aggregation in radiative--convective equilibrium without rotation. We performed the simulations with doubly-periodic square domains of widths 768 km, 1536 km and 3072 km over a time period of about 200 days. The simulations in the larger domains were initialized using multiple copies of the results in the small domain at day 90, plus a small perturbation. With all three domain sizes, the simulations evolved to a single statistically steady convective cluster surrounded by a broader region of dry, subsiding air by about day 150. In the largest domain case, however, we found that an additional convective cluster formed when we the simulation was run for an extended period of time. Specifically, a smaller convective cluster formed at around day 185 at a maximum radial distance from the larger cluster and then re-merged with the larger cluster after about 10 days. We explored how the aggregated state was different in each domain case, before the smaller cluster formed in the large domain. In particular, we investigated changes in the radial structure of the aggregated state by calculating profiles for the water, dynamics and radiation as a function of distance from the center of the convective region. Changes in the vertical structure were also investigated by compositing on the convective region and dry, subsiding region at each height. We found that, with increasing domain size, the convective region boundary layer became more buoyant, the convective cores reached deeper into the troposphere, the mesoscale convective updraft became weaker, and the mesoscale convective region spread out. Additionally, as the domain size was increased, conditions in the remote environment became favorable for convection. We describe a physical mechanism for the weakening of the mesoscale convective updraft and associated broadening of the convective region with increasing domain size, which involves mid-level stable layer enhancement as a result of the deeper convection. Finally, a simple analytical model of the aggregated state was used to explore the dependency of the convective fractional area on the domain size. The simple model solutions that had net radiative cooling and surface evaporation in the convective region were consistent with the simulation results. In particular, the solutions captured the broadening of the convective region, the weakening of the convective region updraft, as well as the positive and declining gross moist stability (GMS) that occurred with increasing domain size in the simulations. Furthermore, the simple model transitioned from positive to negative GMS at a domain length of about 7000 km because the convective region boundary layer became progressively more humid with increasing domain size. This suggests that the spatial scale of the aggregated RCE state in the simulations would be limited to a length scale of about 7000 km, as convectively-active areas are commonly observed to have positive GMS. This work additionally suggests that the processes that influence the water vapor content in the convective region boundary layer, such as convectively-driven turbulent water vapor fluxes, are important for determining the spatial scale of the aggregated RCE state.


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convective aggregation
radiative-convective equilibrium
tropical convection
convective organization
cloud-resolving simulations
simple model of aggregated RCE


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