What controls the formation of nocturnal low-level stratus clouds over southern West Africa during the monsoon season?

Karmen Babić, Norbert Kalthoff, Bianca Adler, Julian F. Quinting, Fabienne Lohou, Cheikh Dione, Marie Lothon
2019 Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions  
<p><strong>Abstract.</strong> Nocturnal low-level stratus clouds (LLC) are frequently observed in the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) over southern West Africa (SWA) during the summer monsoon season. Considering the effect these clouds have on the surface energy and radiation budgets as well as on the diurnal cycle of the ABL, they are undoubtedly important for the regional climate. However, an adequate representation of LLC in the state–of–the–art weather and climate models is still a
more » ... is still a challenge, which is largely due to the lack of high-quality observations in this region. In several recent studies, a unique and comprehensive data set collected in summer 2016 during the DACCIWA (Dynamics-Aerosol-Cloud-Chemistry Interactions in West Africa) ground-based field campaign was used for the first observational analyses of the parameters and physical processes relevant for the LLC formation over SWA. However, occasionally stratus-free nights occur during the monsoon season as well. Using observations and ERA5 reanalysis, we investigate differences in the boundary layer conditions during 6 stratus-free and 20 stratus nights observed during the DACCIWA campaign. Our results suggest that the interplay between three major mechanisms is crucial for the formation of LLC during the monsoon season: (i) the onset time and strength of the nocturnal low-level jet (NLLJ), (ii) horizontal cold-air advection and (iii) background moisture level. Namely, weaker or later onset of NLLJ leads to reduced contribution from horizontal cold-air advection. This in turn results in a weaker cooling and thus saturation is not reached. Such deviation in the dynamics of NLLJ is related to the arrival of cold air mass propagating northwards from the coast called Gulf of Guinea maritime inflow. Additionally, stratus-free nights occur when the intrusions of dry air masses, originating from e.g. central or south Africa, reduce the background moisture over the large parts of SWA. Based on the backward trajectories analysis, another possible reason for clear nights is descending of air originating from drier levels above the marine boundary layer.</p>
doi:10.5194/acp-2019-537 fatcat:hpw35egux5flvlv6ugfbasqtpi