An observational study of drizzle formation in stratocumulus clouds for general circulation model (GCM) parameterizations



[1] Climate model parameterization of precipitation formation in boundary layer stratocumulus clouds is a challenge that needs to be carefully addressed for simulations of the aerosol impact on precipitation and on cloud life time and extent, the so-called second indirect effect of aerosol on climate. Existing schemes are generally tuned against global observations of the liquid water path, as very few in situ observations are available for their validation. This issue is addressed here with data collected during the second Aerosol Characterization Experiment. The methodology is different from previous experimental studies in the sense that each case study is first analyzed for retrieving properties that are representative of the observed cloud system as a whole, such as the cloud system geometrical thickness, droplet concentration, precipitation flux, etc. Special attention is given to the characterization of the droplet number concentration by deriving a value that is representative of the aerosol activation process instead of the mean value over the cloud system. The analysis then focuses on the variability of these cloud system values for eight case studies with different aerosol backgrounds. The data set reveals that precipitation forms when the maximum mean volume droplet radius in the cloud layer reaches values >10 μm, the same critical value as previously used in cloud resolving models. This maximum radius can be predicted with an adiabatic diagnostic on the basis of cloud geometrical thickness and droplet number concentration. The measured reduction rate of drizzle water content by precipitation is also compared to predictions of auto-conversion and accretion production rates derived from existing bulk parameterizations initialized with the measured values of cloud droplet and drizzle water content. The good agreement with the parameterizations suggests that the cloud layer reaches a nearly steady state characterized by a balance between the production and reduction rates of cloud and drizzle water content. Finally, it is shown that the cloud system precipitation rate can be expressed as a power law of cloud geometrical thickness and cloud droplet number concentration, hence providing a simple large-scale parameterization of the precipitation process in boundary layer clouds.