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Published June 2017 | Published
Journal Article Open

Numerics and subgrid-scale modeling in large eddy simulations of stratocumulus clouds


Stratocumulus clouds are the most common type of boundary layer cloud; their radiative effects strongly modulate climate. Large eddy simulations (LES) of stratocumulus clouds often struggle to maintain fidelity to observations because of the sharp gradients occurring at the entrainment interfacial layer at the cloud top. The challenge posed to LES by stratocumulus clouds is evident in the wide range of solutions found in the LES intercomparison based on the DYCOMS-II field campaign, where simulated liquid water paths for identical initial and boundary conditions varied by a factor of nearly 12. Here we revisit the DYCOMS-II RF01 case and show that the wide range of previous LES results can be realized in a single LES code by varying only the numerical treatment of the equations of motion and the nature of subgrid-scale (SGS) closures. The simulations that maintain the greatest fidelity to DYCOMS-II observations are identified. The results show that using weighted essentially non-oscillatory (WENO) numerics for all resolved advective terms and no explicit SGS closure consistently produces the highest-fidelity simulations. This suggests that the numerical dissipation inherent in WENO schemes functions as a high-quality, implicit SGS closure for this stratocumulus case. Conversely, using oscillatory centered difference numerical schemes for momentum advection, WENO numerics for scalars, and explicitly modeled SGS fluxes consistently produces the lowest-fidelity simulations. We attribute this to the production of anomalously large SGS fluxes near the cloud tops through the interaction of numerical error in the momentum field with the scalar SGS model.

Additional Information

© 2017 The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made. Received 16 AUG 2016; Accepted 22 APR 2017; Accepted article online 29 APR 2017; Published online 7 JUN 2017. The authors would like to thank Jon Reisner for his helpful comments during this work. This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant 200021-156109) and the European Research Council (grant STG NN. 306279 SPARCCLE). The PyCLES code is freely available at www.climate-dynamics.org. LES data are available from the corresponding author upon request.

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