Mechanisms and Model Diversity of Trade-Wind Shallow Cumulus Cloud Feedbacks: A Review

  • Jessica VialEmail author
  • Sandrine Bony
  • Bjorn Stevens
  • Raphaela Vogel
Part of the Space Sciences Series of ISSI book series (SSSI, volume 65)


Shallow cumulus clouds in the trade-wind regions are at the heart of the long standing uncertainty in climate sensitivity estimates. In current climate models, cloud feedbacks are strongly influenced by cloud-base cloud amount in the trades. Therefore, understanding the key factors controlling cloudiness near cloud-base in shallow convective regimes has emerged as an important topic of investigation. We review physical understanding of these key controlling factors and discuss the value of the different approaches that have been developed so far, based on global and high-resolution model experimentations and process-oriented analyses across a range of models and for observations. The trade-wind cloud feedbacks appear to depend on two important aspects: (1) how cloudiness near cloud-base is controlled by the local interplay between turbulent, convective and radiative processes; (2) how these processes interact with their surrounding environment and are influenced by mesoscale organization. Our synthesis of studies that have explored these aspects suggests that the large diversity of model responses is related to fundamental differences in how the processes controlling trade cumulus operate in models, notably, whether they are parameterized or resolved. In models with parameterized convection, cloudiness near cloud-base is very sensitive to the vigor of convective mixing in response to changes in environmental conditions. This is in contrast with results from high-resolution models, which suggest that cloudiness near cloud-base is nearly invariant with warming and independent of large-scale environmental changes. Uncertainties are difficult to narrow using current observations, as the trade cumulus variability and its relation to large-scale environmental factors strongly depend on the time and/or spatial scales at which the mechanisms are evaluated. New opportunities for testing physical understanding of the factors controlling shallow cumulus cloud responses using observations and highresolution modeling on large domains are discussed.


Climate sensitivity Global climate models High-resolution Models Low-cloud feedbacks Observations Single-column models Trade-wind shallow cumulus clouds 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jessica Vial
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sandrine Bony
    • 2
  • Bjorn Stevens
    • 3
  • Raphaela Vogel
    • 3
  1. 1.Laboratoire d’Océanographie et du Climat: Expérimentations et Approches Numériques (LOCEAN)Université Pierre et Marie CurieParis, Cedex 05France
  2. 2.Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique (LMD)CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie CurieParis, Cedex 05France
  3. 3.Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI)HamburgGermany

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