Date of Award

January 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Atmospheric Sciences

First Advisor

Xiquan Dong


Stratocumuli are a type of low clouds composed of individual convective elements that together form a continuous layer of clouds. Stratocumuli cover large regions of the Earth's surface, which make them important components in the Earth's radiation budget. Stratocumuli strongly reflect solar shortwave radiation, while weakly affecting outgoing longwave radiation. This leads to a strong radiative cooling effect that affects the Earth's radiation budget. Therefore it is important to investigate the mechanisms that affect the longevity of stratocumuli, so that their impact on the Earth's radiation budget can be fully understood. One mechanism that is currently being studied as influencing the lifetime of such cloud layers is boundary layer/surface coupling. It has been shown than in some regions (i.e. the west coast of South America) stratocumuli tend to break up when the boundary layer is decoupled with the surface, because they are cut off from their moisture source. This study will investigate the macro- and micro-physical properties of stratocumuli when boundary layers are either coupled to or decoupled from the surface. This will help advance understanding of the effects these macro- and micro-physical properties have on the lifetime of stratocumuli under different boundary layer conditions.

This study used the Department of Energy Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (DOE ARM) mobile measurements facility (AMF) at the Azores site from June 2009 to December 2010. The measurements that were used include temperature profiles from radiosondes, cloud liquid water path (LWP) retrieved from the Microwave radiometer,

and cloud base and top heights derived from W-band ARM Cloud Radar and lidar. Satellite images provided by the NASA Langley Research Center were also used to visually decipher cloud types over the region so that only single-layered stratocumuli cases are used in the study. To differentiate between coupled and decoupled cloud layers, two methods are used. The first method compares cloud base height and lifting condensation level (LCL) for surface air parcels. The second method uses potential temperature profiles to indicate whether a boundary layer is coupled or decoupled from the surface. The results from these two methods were then compared using select cases/samples when both methods classified a sample as coupled or decoupled. In this study, a total of seven coupled or decoupled cases (2-3 days long each) have been selected from the 19 month AMF dataset.

Characteristics of the coupled and decoupled cases have been studied to identify similarities and differences. Furthermore, comparison results from this study have shown that there are similarities and differences between drizzling/non-drizzling stratocumulus clouds and decoupled/coupled stratocumulus clouds. Drizzling/decoupled stratocumuli tend to have higher LWP, cloud-droplet effective radius (re), cloud-top height, and cloud thickness values while non-drizzling/coupled stratocumuli have higher cloud-droplet number concentration (N_d) and cloud condensation nuclei concentration (N_CCN) values. It was also determined that during daytime hours when stratocumuli are decoupled, they tend to be open cells, while coupled stratocumuli tend to be closed cells. Finally, decoupled nighttime stratocumuli were found to have higher LWPs compared to decoupled daytime stratocumuli, which resulted in the significant amount of heavy drizzle events occurring at night.