Exploring the land–ocean contrast in convective vigor using islands
Robinson, F. J., Sherwood, S. C., Gerstle, D., Liu, C. and Kirshbaum, D. J. (2011) Exploring the land–ocean contrast in convective vigor using islands. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 68. pp. 602-618. ISSN 1520-0469
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1175/2010JAS3558.1
Moist convection is well known to be generally more intense over continental than maritime regions, with larger updraft velocities, graupel, and lightning production. This study explores the transition from maritime to continental convection by comparing the trends in Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) radar and microwave (37 and 85 GHz) observations over islands of increasing size to those simulated by a cloud-resolving model. The observed storms were essentially maritime over islands of <100 km2 and continental over islands >10 000 km2, with a gradual transition in between. Equivalent radar and microwave quantities were simulated from cloud-resolving runs of the Weather Research and Forecasting model via offline radiation codes. The model configuration was idealized, with islands represented by regions of uniform surface heat flux without orography, using a range of initial sounding conditions without strong horizontal winds or aerosols. Simulated storm strength varied with initial sounding, as expected, but also increased sharply with island size in a manner similar to observations. Stronger simulated storms were associated with higher concentrations of large hydrometeors. Although biases varied with different ice microphysical schemes, the trend was similar for all three schemes tested and was also seen in 2D and 3D model configurations. The successful reproduction of the trend with such idealized forcing supports previous suggestions that mesoscale variation in surface heating—rather than any difference in humidity, aerosol, or other aspects of the atmospheric state—is the main reason that convection is more intense over continents and large islands than over oceans. Some dynamical storm aspects, notably the peak rainfall and minimum surface pressure low, were more sensitive to surface forcing than to the atmospheric sounding or ice scheme. Large hydrometeor concentrations and simulated microwave and radar signatures, however, were at least as sensitive to initial humidity levels as to surface forcing and were more sensitive to the ice scheme. Issues with running the TRMM simulator on 2D simulations are discussed, but they appear to be less serious than sensitivities to model microphysics, which were similar in 2D and 3D. This supports the further use of 2D simulations to economically explore modeling uncertainties.