An Evaluation of the Proposed Mechanism of the Adaptive Infrared Iris Hypothesis Using TRMM VIRS and PR Measurements

Anita D. Rapp, Christian Kummerow, Wesley Berg, and Brian Griffith

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


Significant controversy surrounds the adaptive infrared iris hypothesis put forth by Lindzen et al., whereby tropical anvil cirrus detrainment is hypothesized to decrease with increasing sea surface temperature (SST). This dependence would act as an iris, allowing more infrared radiation to escape into space and inhibiting changes in the surface temperature. This hypothesis assumes that increased precipitation efficiency in regions of higher sea surface temperatures will reduce cirrus detrainment. Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite measurements are used here to investigate the adaptive infrared iris hypothesis. Pixel-level Visible and Infrared Scanner (VIRS) 10.8-μm brightness temperature data and precipitation radar (PR) rain-rate data from TRMM are collocated and matched to determine individual convective cloud boundaries. Each cloudy pixel is then matched to the underlying SST. This study examines single- and multicore convective clouds separately to directly determine if a relationship exists between the size of convective clouds, their precipitation, and the underlying SSTs. In doing so, this study addresses some of the criticisms of the Lindzen et al. study by eliminating their more controversial method of relating bulk changes of cloud amount and SST across a large domain in the Tropics. The current analysis does not show any significant SST dependence of the ratio of cloud area to surface rainfall for deep convection in the tropical western and central Pacific. Results do, however, suggest that SST plays an important role in the ratio of cloud area and surface rainfall for warm rain processes. For clouds with brightness temperatures between 270 and 280 K, a net decrease in cloud area normalized by rainfall of 5% per degree SST was found.