An Observed Tropical Oceanic Radiative-Convective Cloud Feedback

Matthew D. Lebsock, Christian Kummerow, and Graeme L. Stephens

Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado


Anomalies of precipitation, cloud, thermodynamic, and radiation variables are analyzed on the large spatial scale defined by the tropical oceans. In particular, relationships between the mean tropical oceanic precipitation anomaly and radiative anomalies are examined. It is found that tropical mean precipitation is well correlated with cloud properties and radiative fields. In particular, the tropical mean precipitation anomaly is positively correlated with the top of the atmosphere reflected shortwave anomaly and negatively correlated with the emitted longwave anomaly. The tropical mean relationships are found to primarily result from a coherent oscillation of precipitation and the area of high-level cloudiness. The correlations manifest themselves radiatively as a modest decrease in net downwelling radiation at the top of the atmosphere, and a redistribution of energy from the surface to the atmosphere through reduced solar radiation to the surface and decreased longwave emission to space. Integrated over the tropical oceanic domain, the anomalous atmospheric column radiative heating is found to be about 10% of the magnitude of the anomalous latent heating. The temporal signature of the radiative heating is observed in the column mean temperature that indicates a coherent phase-lagged oscillation between atmospheric stability and convection. These relationships are identified as a radiative-convective cloud feedback that is observed on intraseasonal time scales in the tropical atmosphere.