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Journal Article

Widespread shallow mesoscale circulations observed in the trades


George,  Geet
Tropical Cloud Observations, Department Climate Physics, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;


Stevens,  Bjorn       
Director’s Research Group (CPH), Department Climate Physics, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;


Naumann,  Ann Kristin
Drivers of Tropical Circulation (CLiCCS JWG), MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;
Meteorological Institute, Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability, University of Hamburg, External Organizations;

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George, G., Stevens, B., Bony, S., Vogel, R., & Naumann, A. K. (2023). Widespread shallow mesoscale circulations observed in the trades. Nature Geoscience, 16, 584-589. doi:10.1038/s41561-023-01215-1.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000C-D078-2
Understanding the drivers of cloud organization is crucial for accurately estimating cloud feedbacks and their contribution to climate warming. Shallow mesoscale circulations are thought to play an important role in cloud organization, but they have not been observed. Here we present observational evidence for the existence of shallow mesoscale overturning circulations using divergence measurements made during the EUREC4A field campaign in the North Atlantic trades. Meteorological re-analyses reproduce the observed low-level divergence well and confirm the circulations to be mesoscale features (around 200 km across). We find that the shallow mesoscale circulations are associated with large variability in mesoscale vertical velocity and amplify moisture variance at the cloud base. Through their modulation of cloud-base moisture, the circulations influence how efficiently the subcloud layer dries, thus producing moist ascending branches and dry descending branches. The observed moisture variance differs from expectations from large-eddy simulations, which show the largest variance near the cloud top and negligible subcloud variance. The ubiquity of shallow mesoscale circulations, and their coupling to moisture and cloud fields, suggests that the strength and scale of mesoscale circulations are integral to determining how clouds respond to climate change.