The sub-adiabatic model as a concept for evaluating the representation and radiative effects of low-level clouds in a high-resolution atmospheric model
The realistic representation of low-level clouds, including their radiative effects, in atmospheric models remains challenging. A sensitivity study is presented to establish a conceptual approach for the evaluation of low-level clouds and their radiative impact in a highly resolved atmospheric model. Considering simulations for six case days, the analysis supports the notion that the properties of clouds more closely match the assumptions of the sub-adiabatic rather than the vertically homogeneous cloud model, suggesting its use as the basis for evaluation. For the considered cases, 95.7 % of the variance in cloud optical thickness is explained by the variance in the liquid water path, while the droplet number concentration and the sub-adiabatic fraction contribute only 3.5 % and 0.2 % to the total variance, respectively. A mean sub-adiabatic fraction of 0.45 is found, which exhibits strong inter-day variability. Applying a principal component analysis and subsequent varimax rotation to the considered set of nine properties, four dominating modes of variability are identified, which explain 97.7 % of the total variance. The first and second components correspond to the cloud base and top height, and to liquid water path, optical thickness, and cloud geometrical extent, respectively, while the cloud droplet number concentration and the sub-adiabatic fraction are the strongest contributors to the third and fourth components. Using idealized offline radiative transfer calculations, it is confirmed that the shortwave and longwave cloud radiative effects exhibit little sensitivity to the vertical structure of clouds. This reconfirms, based on an unprecedented large set of highly resolved vertical cloud profiles, that the cloud optical thickness and the cloud top and bottom heights are the main factors dominating the shortwave and longwave radiative effect of clouds and should be evaluated together with radiative fluxes using observations to attribute model deficiencies in the radiative fluxes to deficiencies in the representation of clouds. Considering the different representations of cloud microphysical processes in atmospheric models, the analysis has been further extended and the deviations between the radiative impact of the single- and double-moment schemes are assessed. Contrasting the shortwave cloud radiative effect obtained from the double-moment scheme to that of a single-moment scheme, differences of about ∼40 W m−2 and significant scatter are observed. The differences are attributable to a higher cloud albedo resulting from the high values of droplet number concentration in particular in the boundary layer predicted by the double-moment scheme, which reach median values of around ∼600 cm−3.