Sensible heating as a potential mechanism for enhanced cloud formation over temperate forest

Peter J.M. Bosman*, Chiel C. van Heerwaarden, Adriaan J. Teuling

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


It has been recently shown for two forests in France (Les Landes and Sologne) that summer cloud cover over the forest is increased relative to its surroundings. This study aims to contribute to the elucidation of the physical mechanisms responsible for this increased cloud cover, focusing on surface flux partitioning. This was done by performing a case study for a heatwave day on which enhanced cloud cover over the forest of Les Landes was observed. Two numerical experiments (large-eddy simulations) with a homogeneous forest cover were performed, one in which the sensible heat flux was increased by approximately 5% of the total available energy and another one in which the same amount of energy was added to the latent heat flux. The addition of energy to the sensible heat flux led to a stronger increase in cloud cover than the same addition to the latent heat flux. The mean relative humidity at the boundary layer top showed only small differences, indicating it was not a sufficient indicator for cloud formation in this case. Important information, which immediately underlines the need for large-eddy simulations, is contained in modifications of the shape of the probability density functions of temperature and humidity. With enhanced sensible heating, the higher peak values of relative humidity contribute to an increased cloud cover. A crucial reason for the differences in cloud cover between the experiments is conjectured to be a decrease in the required amount of energy for air parcels to reach the lifting condensation level, indirectly caused by the boundary layer and near-surface warming associated with the stronger sensible heat flux. As forests in the region do have a higher sensible heat flux than their surroundings, we highlight one potential mechanism for enhanced cloud cover.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)450-468
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number719
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • cloud formation
  • flux partitioning
  • forest cloud cover
  • large-eddy simulation
  • sensible heat flux
  • sensible heating
  • surface heat fluxes

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