Diurnal timescale feedbacks in the tropical cumulus regime

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30 Scopus citations


Although the importance of the diurnal cycle in modulating clouds and precipitation has long been recognized, its impact on the climate system at longer timescales has remained elusive. Mounting evidence indicates that the diurnal cycle may substantially affect leading climate modes through nonlinear rectification. In this study, an idealized cloud-resolving model experiment is executed to isolate a diurnal timescale feedback in the shallow cumulus regime over the tropical warm pool. This feedback is isolated by modifying the period of the diurnal cycle (or removing it), which proportionally scales (or removes) the diurnal thermodynamic forcing that clouds respond to. This diurnal forcing is identified as covarying cycles of static stability and humidity in the lower troposphere, wherein the most unstable conditions coincide with greatest humidity each afternoon. This diurnal forcing yields deeper clouds and greater daily-mean cumulus heating than would otherwise occur, in turn reducing large-scale subsidence from day to day according to the “weak temperature gradient” approximation. This diurnal forcing therefore manifests as a timescale feedback by accelerating the onset of deep convection. The longwave cloud-radiation effect is found to amplify this timescale feedback, since the resulting invigoration of clouds (increased upper-cloud radiative cooling, with suppressed cooling below) scales with cloud depth (i.e., optical thickness), and hence with the magnitude of diurnal forcing. These findings highlight the pressing need to remedy longstanding problems related to the diurnal cycle in many climate models. Given the evident sensitivity of climate variability to diurnal processes, doing so may yield advances in climate prediction at longer timescales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1483-1500
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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