Trade wind cloud evolution observed by polarization radar: Relationship to giant condensation nuclei concentrations and cloud organization

Hilary A. Minor, Robert M. Rauber, Sabine Göke, Larry di Girolamo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Shallow marine trade wind cumuli are one of the most prevalent cloud types in the tropical atmosphere. Understanding how precipitation forms within these clouds is necessary to advance our knowledge concerning their role in climate. This paper presents a statistical analysis of the characteristic heights and times at which precipitation in trade wind clouds passes through distinct stages in its evolution as defined by the equivalent radar reflectivity factor at horizontal polarization ZH, the differential reflectivity ZDR, and the spatial correlation between and averages of these variables. The data were obtained during the Rain in Cumulus over the Ocean (RICO) field campaign by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) S-band dual-polarization (S-Pol) Doppler radar, the National Science Foundation (NSF)-NCAR C130 aircraft, and soundings launched near the radar. The data consisted of 76 trade cumuli that were tracked from early echo development through rainout on six days during RICO. Trade wind clouds used in the statistical analyses were segregated based on giant condensation nuclei (GCN) measurements made during low-level aircraft flight legs on the six days. This study found that the rate of precipitation formation in shallow marine cumulus was unrelated to the GCN concentration in the ambient environment. Instead, the rate at which precipitation developed in the clouds appeared to be related to the mesoscale forcing as suggested by the cloud organization. Although GCN had no influence on the rate of precipitation development, the data suggest that they do contribute to a modification of the rain drop size distribution within the clouds. With very few exceptions, high threshold values ofZDR were found well above cloud base on days with high GCN concentrations. On the days that were exceptions, these threshold values were almost always achieved near cloud base.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1075-1096
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Aircraft observations
  • Clouds
  • Condensation
  • Radar observations
  • Wind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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