Humidity variations across the edge of trade wind cumuli: Observations and dynamical implications

Yonggang Wang, Bart Geerts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Aircraft data are used to analyze the composite horizontal structure of shallow tropical maritime cumulus clouds across the cloud edge into the ambient clear air. The emphasis is on humidity variations, and their implications for cumulus dynamics. The Lyman-α humidity probe has the required fast response and is unaffected by wetting in-cloud. On average the water vapor mixing ratio increases gradually from the clear air towards the cloud edge, and air is often sub-saturated in the outer fringe of the cloud, implying that droplets are evaporating. Similarly, conserved variables such as the total water concentration and the wet equivalent potential temperature gradually transition in the "margin" of cumulus clouds. The gradual change of water vapor mixing ratio and conserved variables across the cloud edge highlights the significance of lateral entrainment and detrainment, and it reveals a characteristic penetration depth of mixing eddies of 10 to 15% of the cloud diameter, or about 50. m.An ~100 m wide region just outside the cloud is generally characterized by negatively buoyant, sinking air. The excess water vapor in this region, also documented in several recent studies, confirms that the negative buoyancy is caused by evaporative cooling in the cloud margin. Although rather weak, this cooling appears strong enough to evoke a dynamical response, even in the relative small trade wind cumuli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-156
Number of pages13
JournalAtmospheric Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jul 2010


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