National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2008

Observations of cloud, radiation, and surface forcing in the equatorial eastern Pacific

Fairall, C.W., T. Uttal, D. Hazen, J. Hare, M.F. Cronin, N. Bond, and D. Veron

J. Climate, 21(4), 655–673, doi: 10.1175/2007JCLI1757.1 (2008)

In this paper the authors report on a study of cloud and surface flux processes in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean based on a series of ship-based cloud and flux measurements made during fall (1999–2002) and spring (2000–02) maintenance cruises along the 95° and 110°W Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) buoy lines between 8°S and 12°N. The year-to-year and seasonal variabilities of many of the meteorological and oceanic means are relatively small. However, notable seasonal variability is found in the northern branch of the intertropical convergence zone, the north–south sea surface temperature gradient, and heat fluxes north of the equator. In the fall, the strengthening of the north–south SST contrast enhances convective activity (more and deeper clouds, precipitation, southerly inflow) in the area around 6°N, 95°W; diurnal variations of low cloud fraction were weak. Spring cloud fraction varied significantly over the diurnal cycle with substantially lower cloud fraction during the day south of 5°N. Relatively low average cloud-base heights around the equator are due to chilling of the marine boundary layer over the cold tongue. Cloud radiative forcing strongly correlates with cloud fraction; clouds in the observation region cool the surface by about 40 W m–2 in both seasons. Cloud forcing estimates from the ship data, the TAO buoys, and International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) products were combined to form a consensus observation dataset that is compared with the second NCEP reanalysis (NCEP-2) and 40-yr ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-40) cloud forcing values. The reanalysis products were within 10 W m–2 of the observations for IR cloud forcing but substantially overestimated the solar cloud forcing, particularly in spring.

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