Subsiding shells and the distribution of up- and downdraughts in warm cumulus clouds over land

Mallaun, Christian; Giez, Andreas; Mayr, Georg J.; Rotach, Mathias W.

The mass flux of air lifted within the updraughts (updraft in American English) of shallow convection is usually thought to be compensated outside the cloud through either large-scale subsidence or stronger downdraughts in a thin shell surrounding the cloud. Subsiding shells were postulated based on large eddy simulation and are experimentally tested in this study for shallow convection over land. Isolated cumulus clouds were probed with a small research aircraft over flat land and mountainous terrain, in different wind situations and at different levels of the clouds. The average of the 191 cloud transects shows the subsiding shell as a narrow downdraught region outside the cloud boundaries. The ensemble-mean subsiding shell is narrower on the upwind side of the cloud, while it is at least half a cloud diameter wide and more humid on the downwind side. At least half of the upward mass transport in the cloud is compensated within a distance of 20 % of the cloud diameter. However, this shell is not uniform. Distinct regions of downdraughts and updraughts with high variability in the vertical wind are frequent and randomly distributed in the vicinity and also within the cloud. The median diameter of the draughts directly at the cloud boundary is at least 4 times as large as inside the clouds and in the environment. Downdraughts at the cloud boundary are twice as frequent as updraughts. In contrast to the updraughts the major part of the downdraughts is situated outside of the cloud. The subsiding shell results from the distribution of these up- and downdraughts.

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Mallaun, Christian / Giez, Andreas / Mayr, Georg J. / et al: Subsiding shells and the distribution of up- and downdraughts in warm cumulus clouds over land. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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