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Collaborative Proposal: Improving Understanding of the Internal Structure and Dynamics of Deep Convection Using ARM Observations and Large Eddy Simulations

Active Dates 4/1/2023-3/31/2025
Program Area Atmospheric System Research
Project Description
Recent observational and large eddy simulation (LES) modeling studies have nearly unanimously supported the view of deep cumulus convection being composed of a series of quasi-spherical bubbles of buoyant air, known as moist thermals. Despite the prevalence of moist thermals in deep convection, a comprehensive theory for the dynamics of these structures is lacking. Most current conceptual models for cumulus convection are based on canonical scaling theories for dry thermals or plumes; however, there is considerable evidence that the behavior of moist thermals differs markedly from these theories. Furthermore, the theoretical basis for most cumulus parameterizations originates from the plume conceptual model, and therefore these parameterizations are inconsistent with the real structure of moist convection.

Motivated by the aforementioned knowledge gaps, this “end-to-end” research effort use theory, observations, numerical simulations, and direct improvements to the Zhang-McFarlane (ZM) convection scheme in the global climate Community Atmosphere Model (CAM) to address the following research questions:
What key environmental parameters determine whether or not shallow convection will transition into deep convection, in the context of thermal-like updrafts?
What factors regulate the size of thermals within cumulus updrafts?
How does vertical wind shear influence thermal behavior, and as a consequence, vertical velocity and mass flux profiles and the shallow-to-deep convective transition?
What are the critical processes that determine updraft vertical velocities and their connection to the vertical mass flux profile for thermal-like updrafts?

Idealized LES modeling will be used in conjunction with theoretical models for the core properties of thermal-like updrafts to better understand key processes that regulate thermal ascent rates and entrainment properties. Thermal-tracking procedures will be used to characterize the behavior of thermals within the LES, and recently developed direct measures of entrainment and detrainment will be used to quantify entrainment/detrainment rates. Building from these results, we will analyze the structure of moist thermals from hemispheric range-height indicator scans taken during the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Cloud, Aerosol, and Complex Terrain Interactions (CACTI) field campaign, and from “real case” LES of CACTI events. This combined modeling and observational analysis will provide essential validation for the existing body of research on moist thermal dynamics, which is based primarily on modeling studies. With the insight gained from the aforementioned activities, we will modify the Zhang-McFarlane convection scheme to improve its representation of updraft vertical velocity and entrainment rate profiles. These process-level changes will be tested in the Community Atmosphere Model to assess the impact on global climate simulations.
Award Recipient(s)
  • Pennsylvania State University (PI: Peters, John)