Characteristics of cirrus clouds in the tropical lower stratosphere

Suginori Iwasaki, Zhengzhao Johnny Luo, Hisayuki Kubota, Takashi Shibata, Hajime Okamoto, Hiroshi Ishimoto

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12 Citations (Scopus)


A unique type of cloud in the tropical lower stratosphere, which we call "stratospheric cirrus", is described in this study. Stratospheric cirrus clouds are generally detached from overshooting deep convection and are much smaller than subvisual cirrus often observed near the tropical tropopause. We analyzed two cases of stratospheric cirrus in the tropical and subtropical lower stratosphere captured by the space-borne lidar, Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP). Both cases occurred 2-3 hours after the most active phase of the nearby convective cloud clusters. Case 1 has a double-layer structure above the cold point height (CPH); the CPH and two cloud top heights are, respectively, 17.8, 18.9, and 19.9 km. Case 2 has a single cloud layer where CPH and the cloud top height are, respectively, 16.5 and 18.7 km. The mode radius and ice water content of the stratospheric cirrus clouds are estimated to be 4-10μm and 0.2-0.8 mg/m3 based on the radar-lidar method and consideration of the cloud particle terminal velocity. Comparisons with previous numerical model simulation studies suggest that the double-layer stratospheric cirrus clouds are likely from an overshooting plume, pushed up into the stratosphere in an overshoot when warm stratospheric air is inhomogeneously mixed with cold overshooting air. The single-layer stratospheric cirrus cloud is associated with some non-negligible wind shear, so it could be a jumping cirrus cloud, although we cannot rule out the possibility that it came from an overshooting plume because of the similarity in cloud characteristics and morphology between the two cases. Guided by the case studies, an automatic algorithm was developed to select stratospheric cirrus clouds for global survey and statistical analysis. A total of four years of CALIPSO and space-borne cloud radar (CloudSat) data were analyzed. Statistical analysis suggests that stratospheric cirrus clouds occur on the order of 3.0×103 times a year between 30 °S and 30 °N. Many of the stratospheric cirrus clouds are found in the pre-monsoon season in the South and Southeast Asia, where convection is deep and intense.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-368
Number of pages11
JournalAtmospheric Research
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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