Radiative convective equilibrium over a land surface

Rochetin, Nicolas; Lintner, Benjamin R.; Findell, Kirsten L.; Sobel, Adam H.; Gentine, Pierre

Radiative-convective equilibrium (RCE) describes an idealized state of the atmosphere in which the vertical temperature profile is determined by a balance between radiative and convective fluxes. While RCE has been applied extensively over oceans, its application over the land surface has been limited. The present study explores the properties of RCE over land using an atmospheric single column model (SCM) from the Laboratoire de Meteorologie Dynamique (LMD) General Circulation Model (LMDZ5B) coupled in temperature and moisture to a land surface model comprising a simplified bucket model with finite moisture capacity. Given the presence of a large-amplitude diurnal heat flux cycle, the resultant RCE exhibits multiple equilibria when conditions are neither strictly water- nor energy-limited. By varying top-of-the-atmosphere insolation (through changes in latitude), total system water content, and initial temperature conditions, the sensitivity of the land RCE states is assessed, with particular emphasis on the role of clouds. Based on this analysis, it appears that a necessary condition for the model to exhibit multiple equilibria is the presence of low-level clouds coupled to the diurnal cycle of radiation. In addition the simulated surface precipitation rate varies non-monotonically with latitude as a result of a tradeoff between in-cloud rain rate and subcloud rain re-evaporation, thus underscoring the importance of subcloud layer processes and unsaturated downdrafts. It is shown that clouds, especially at low levels, are key elements of the internal variability of the coupled land-atmosphere system through their feedback on radiation.


Also Published In

Journal of Climate