An application of statistical mechanics for representing equilibrium perimeter distributions of tropical convective clouds

Tuesday, 15 December 2015: 10:50
3010 (Moscone West)
Timothy J Garrett1, Shailesh Alva2, Ian Bruce Glenn2 and Steven K Krueger3, (1)Univ Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, United States, (2)University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, United States, (3)Univ of Utah-Meteorology, Salt Lake City, UT, United States
There are two possible approaches for parameterizing sub-grid cloud dynamics in a coarser grid model. The most common is to use a fine scale model to explicitly resolve the mechanistic details of clouds to the best extent possible, and then to parameterize these behaviors cloud state for the coarser grid. A second is to invoke physical intuition and some very general theoretical principles from equilibrium statistical mechanics. This approach avoids any requirement to resolve time-dependent processes in order to arrive at a suitable solution. The second approach is widely used elsewhere in the atmospheric sciences: for example the Planck function for blackbody radiation is derived this way, where no mention is made of the complexities of modeling a large ensemble of time-dependent radiation-dipole interactions in order to obtain the “grid-scale” spectrum of thermal emission by the blackbody as a whole. We find that this statistical approach may be equally suitable for modeling convective clouds. Specifically, we make the physical argument that the dissipation of buoyant energy in convective clouds is done through mixing across a cloud perimeter. From thermodynamic reasoning, one might then anticipate that vertically stacked isentropic surfaces are characterized by a power law dlnN/dlnP = -1, where N(P) is the number clouds of perimeter P. In a Giga-LES simulation of convective clouds within a 100 km square domain we find that such a power law does appear to characterize simulated cloud perimeters along isentropes, provided a sufficient cloudy sample. The suggestion is that it may be possible to parameterize certain important aspects of cloud state without appealing to computationally expensive dynamic simulations.