This study provides a detailed characterization of stratocumulus clearings off the US West Coast using remote sensing, reanalysis, and airborne in situ data. Ten years (2009 2018) of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) imagery data are used to quantify the monthly frequency, growth rate of total area (GRArea), and dimensional characteristics of 306 total clearings. While there is interannual variability, the summer (winter) months experienced the most (least) clearing events, with the lowest cloud fractions being in close proximity to coastal topographical features along the central to northern coast of California, including especially just south of Cape Mendocino and Cape Blanco. From 09:00 to 18:00 (PST), the median length, width, and area of clearings increased from 680 to 1231, 193 to 443, and ~ 67000 to ~ 250000 km2, respectively. Machine learning was applied to identify the most influential factors governing the GRArea of clearings between 09:00 and 12:00 PST, which is the time frame of most rapid clearing expansion. The results from gradient-boosted regression tree (GBRT) modeling revealed that air temperature at 850 hPa (T850), specific humidity at 950 hPa (q950), sea surface temperature (SST), and anomaly in mean sea level pressure (MSLPanom) were probably most impactful in enhancing GRArea using two scoring schemes. Clearings have distinguishing features such as an enhanced Pacific high shifted more towards northern California, offshore air that is warm and dry, stronger coastal surface winds, enhanced lower-tropospheric static stability, and increased subsidence. Although clearings are associated obviously with reduced cloud fraction where they reside, the domain-averaged cloud albedo was actually slightly higher on clearing days as compared to non-clearing days. To validate speculated processes linking environmental parameters to clearing growth rates based on satellite and reanalysis data, airborne data from three case flights were examined. Measurements were compared on both sides of the clear cloudy border of clearings at multiple altitudes in the boundary layer and free troposphere, with results helping to support links suggested by this study s model simulations. More specifically, airborne data revealed the influence of the coastal low-level jet and extensive horizontal shear at cloud-relevant altitudes that promoted mixing between clear and cloudy air. Vertical profile data provide support for warm and dry air in the free troposphere, additionally promoting expansion of clearings. Airborne data revealed greater evidence of sea salt in clouds on clearing days, pointing to a possible role for, or simply the presence of, this aerosol type in clearing areas coincident with stronger coastal winds.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Atmospheric Science