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Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres


In this study, a new method is developed to investigate the entire life cycle of shallow cumuli in large eddy simulations. Although trained observers have no problem in distinguishing the different life stages of a cloud, this process proves difficult to automate, because cloud-splitting and cloud-merging events complicate the distinction between a single system divided in several cloudy parts and two independent systems that collided. Because the human perception is well equipped to capture and to make sense of these time-dependent three-dimensional features, a combination of automated constraints and human inspection in a three-dimensional virtual reality environment is used to select clouds that are exemplary in their behavior throughout their entire life span. Three specific cases (ARM, BOMEX, and BOMEX without large-scale forcings) are analyzed in this way, and the considerable number of selected clouds warrants reliable statistics of cloud properties conditioned on the phase in their life cycle. The most dominant feature in this statistical life cycle analysis is the pulsating growth that is present throughout the entire lifetime of the cloud, independent of the case and of the large-scale forcings. The pulses are a self-sustained phenomenon, driven by a balance between buoyancy and horizontal convergence of dry air. The convective inhibition just above the cloud base plays a crucial role as a barrier for the cloud to overcome in its infancy stage, and as a buffer region later on, ensuring a steady supply of buoyancy into the cloud.




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