Observing Convective Aggregation

  • Christopher E. HollowayEmail author
  • Allison A. Wing
  • Sandrine Bony
  • Caroline Muller
  • Hirohiko Masunaga
  • Tristan S. L’Ecuyer
  • David D. Turner
  • Paquita Zuidema
Part of the Space Sciences Series of ISSI book series (SSSI, volume 65)


Convective self-aggregation, the spontaneous organization of initially scattered convection into isolated convective clusters despite spatially homogeneous boundary conditions and forcing, was first recognized and studied in idealized numerical simulations. While there is a rich history of observational work on convective clustering and organization, there have been only a few studies that have analyzed observations to look specifically for processes related to self-aggregation in models. Here we review observational work in both of these categories and motivate the need for more of this work. We acknowledge that self-aggregation may appear to be far-removed from observed convective organization in terms of time scales, initial conditions, initiation processes, and mean state extremes, but we argue that these differences vary greatly across the diverse range of model simulations in the literature and that these comparisons are already offering important insights into real tropical phenomena. Some preliminary new findings are presented, including results showing that a self-aggregation simulation with square geometry has too broad distribution of humidity and is too dry in the driest regions when compared with radiosonde records from Nauru, while an elongated channel simulation has realistic representations of atmospheric humidity and its variability. We discuss recent work increasing our understanding of how organized convection and climate change may interact, and how model discrepancies related to this question are prompting interest in observational comparisons. We also propose possible future directions for observational work related to convective aggregation, including novel satellite approaches and a groundbased observational network.


Self-aggregation Tropical convection Convective organization Climate sensitivity Cloud feedback 


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This paper arises from the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) workshop on ‘‘Shallow clouds and water vapor, circulation and climate sensitivity’’. ARM data were used with the cooperation of the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program Climate Research Facility. We thank Kerry Emanuel, Robert Pincus, Thorwald Stein, James Ruppert, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments. AAW acknowledges support from an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship under Award No. AGS-1433251. SB acknowledges support from ERC Grant No. 694768.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher E. Holloway
    • 1
    Email author
  • Allison A. Wing
    • 2
    • 3
  • Sandrine Bony
    • 4
  • Caroline Muller
    • 5
  • Hirohiko Masunaga
    • 6
  • Tristan S. L’Ecuyer
    • 7
  • David D. Turner
    • 8
  • Paquita Zuidema
    • 9
  1. 1.Department of MeteorologyUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  2. 2.Lamont-Doherty Earth ObservatoryColumbia UniversityPalisadesUSA
  3. 3.Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric ScienceFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  4. 4.LMD/IPSL, CNRS, Univ Paris 06Sorbonne UniversityParis cedex 05France
  5. 5.LMD/IPSL, CNRS, École Normale SupérieureParis Sciences Et LettresParis cedex 05France
  6. 6.Institute for Space-Earth Environmental ResearchNagoya UniversityNagoyaJapan
  7. 7.Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic SciencesUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  8. 8.Global Systems DivisionNOAA/Earth System Research LaboratoryBoulderUSA
  9. 9.Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric ScienceUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA

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