# Stability and Cloud Development. Stability in the atmosphere AT350. Why did this cloud form, whereas the sky was clear 4 hours ago?

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1 Stability and Cloud Development AT350 Why did this cloud form, whereas the sky was clear 4 hours ago? Stability in the atmosphere An Initial Perturbation Stable Unstable Neutral If an air parcel is displaced from its original height it can: Return to its original height Stable Keep right on moving because it is buoyant - Unstable Stay at the place to which it was displaced - Neutral the concept of stability

2 Buoyancy What is the lapse rate? An air parcel rises in the atmosphere when it s density is less than its surroundings Let! env be the density of the environment. From the Equation of State/Ideal Gas Law "! env = P/RT env Let! parcel be the density of an air parcel. Then "! parcel = P/RT parcel Since both the parcel and the environment at the same height are at the same pressure When T parcel < T env! parcel >! env The lapse rate is the change of temperature as a function of altitude There are two kinds of lapse rates: Environmental Lapse Rate What you would measure with a weather balloon Parcel Lapse Rate The change of temperature that an air parcel would experience when it is displaced vertically This is assumed to be an adiabatic process (i.e., no heat exchange occurs across parcel boundary) When T parcel > T env! parcel <! env Parcel lapse rate... The atmospheric dry adiabatic lapse rate is ~ 5.4 F/1000 ft or 10 C/1000 m The actual, environmental lapse rate may be greater or smaller than this Stability and the dry adiabatic lapse rate Atmospheric stability depends on the environmental lapse rate A rising unsaturated air parcel cools according to the dry adiabatic lapse rate If this air parcel is warmer than surrounding air it is less dense and buoyancy accelerates the parcel upward Colder than surrounding air it is more dense and buoyancy forces oppose the rising motion 7

3 A saturated rising air parcel cools less than an unsaturated parcel If a rising air parcel becomes saturated condensation occurs Condensation warms the air parcel due to the release of latent heat So, a rising parcel cools less if it is saturated Define a moist adiabatic lapse rate ~ 6 C/1000 m Not constant (varies from ~ 3-9 C) depends on T and P Stability and the moist adiabatic lapse Atmospheric stability depends on the environmental lapse rate A rising saturated air parcel cools according to the moist adiabatic lapse rate When the environmental lapse rate is smaller than the moist adiabatic lapse rate, the atmosphere is termed absolutely stable Recall that the dry adiabatic lapse rate is larger than the moist What types of clouds do you expect to form if saturated air is forced to rise in an absolutely stable atmosphere? What conditions contribute to a stable atmosphere? Radiative cooling of surface at night Advection of cold air near the surface Air moving over a cold surface (e.g., snow) Adiabatic compression due to subsidence (sinking) Absolute instability The atmosphere is absolutely unstable if the environmental lapse rate exceeds the moist and dry adiabatic lapse rates This situation is not long-lived Usually results from surface heating and is confined to a shallow layer near the surface Vertical mixing can eliminate it

4 Conditionally unstable air What if the environmental lapse rate falls between the moist and dry adiabatic lapse rates? The atmosphere is unstable for saturated air parcels but stable for unsaturated air parcels This situation is termed conditionally unstable This is the typical situation in the atmosphere What conditions enhance atmospheric instability? Cooling of air aloft Cold advection aloft Radiative cooling of air/clouds aloft Warming of surface air Solar heating of ground Warm advection near surface Air moving over a warm surface (e.g., a warm body of water) Contributes to lake effect snow Lifting of an air layer and associated vertical stretching Especially if bottom of layer is moist and top is dry Cloud development Clouds form as air rises, expands and cools Most clouds form by Surface heating and free convection Lifting of air over topography Widespread air lifting due to surface convergence Lifting along weather fronts

5 Fair weather cumulus cloud development Air rises due to surface heating RH rises as rising parcel cools Cloud forms at RH ~ 100% Rising is strongly suppressed at base of subsidence inversion produced from sinking motion associated with high pressure system Sinking air is found between cloud elements What conditions support taller cumulus development? A less stable atmospheric profile permits greater vertical motion Why? Determining Convective Cloud Bases Dry air parcels cool at the dry adiabatic rate (about 10 oc/ km Dew point decreases at a rate of ~ 2 oc/km This means that the dew point approaches the air parcel temperature at a rate of about 8oC/km If the dew point depression were 8oC at the surface, a cloud base would appear at a height of 1000 meters; 4 C at 500 meters etc. Cloud base occurs when dew point = temp (100% RH) Each one degree difference between the surface temperature and the dew point will produce an increase in the elevation of cloud base of 125 meters Fair weather cumulus cloud development schematic

6 Determining convective cloud top Cloud top will be defined by the upper boundary of air parcel rising motion The area between the dry/moist adiabatic lapse rate, showing an air parcel s temperature during ascent, and the environmental lapse rate, can be divided into two parts A positive acceleration part where the parcel is warmer than the environment A negative acceleration part where the parcel is colder than the environment The approximate cloud top height will be that altitude where the negative acceleration area becomes nominally equal to the positive acceleration area Orographic clouds some examples of clouds in stable and unstable layers Forced lifting along a topographic barrier causes air parcel expansion and cooling Clouds and precipitation often develop on upwind side of obstacle Air dries further during descent on downwind side

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