Relative Humidity as an Indicator for Cloud Formation over Heterogeneous land surfaces

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The influence of land surface heterogeneity on potential cloud formation is investigated using relative humidity as an indicator. This is done by performing numerical experiments using a large-eddy simulation model (LES). The land surface in the model was divided into two patches that had the same sum of latent and sensible heat flux but different Bowen ratios to simulate heterogeneous land surfaces. For heterogeneity in the meso-¿ scale (2¿20 km), sensitivity analyses were carried out on the heterogeneity amplitude (Bowen ratio difference between contrasting areas) and the inversion strength of potential temperature and specific humidity. The competition between absolute temperature decrease by ABL growth and dry air entrainment in heterogeneous conditions is analyzed using the LES results. First, it is shown that entrainment is located and enhanced over patches with higher Bowen ratios (warm patches) than their surroundings (cold patches). The heterogeneity-induced strong thermals can further penetrate the inversion at the ABL top, thereby reaching lower absolute temperatures than in homogeneous conditions. Second, because of the heterogeneity-induced circulations the moisture is located over the warm patch, and higher time-averaged RH values at the ABL top (RHzi) than over the cold patches are found here, even for dry atmospheres. These RHzi exceed values found over homogeneous land surfaces and are an indication that surface heterogeneity may facilitate cloud formation. In vertical profiles of RH, few differences are found between the homogeneous and heterogeneous cases, but the essential heterogeneity-induced modifications are within the domain variability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3263-3277
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • convective boundary-layer
  • large-eddy-simulation
  • entrainment
  • turbulence
  • shear
  • vegetation
  • evolution
  • models
  • driven
  • scale

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