Articles | Volume 10, issue 5
Research article
03 May 2017
Research article |  | 03 May 2017

Determining stages of cirrus evolution: a cloud classification scheme

Benedikt Urbanek, Silke Groß, Andreas Schäfler, and Martin Wirth

Abstract. Cirrus clouds impose high uncertainties on climate prediction, as knowledge on important processes is still incomplete. For instance it remains unclear how cloud microphysical and radiative properties change as the cirrus evolves. Recent studies classify cirrus clouds into categories including in situ, orographic, convective and liquid origin clouds and investigate their specific impact. Following this line, we present a novel scheme for the classification of cirrus clouds that addresses the need to determine specific stages of cirrus evolution. Our classification scheme is based on airborne Differential Absorption and High Spectral Resolution Lidar measurements of atmospheric water vapor, aerosol depolarization, and backscatter, together with model temperature fields and simplified parameterizations of freezing onset conditions. It identifies regions of supersaturation with respect to ice (ice-supersaturated regions, ISSRs), heterogeneous and homogeneous nucleation, depositional growth, and ice sublimation and sedimentation with high spatial resolution. Thus, all relevant stages of cirrus evolution can be classified and characterized. In a case study of a gravity lee-wave-influenced cirrus cloud, encountered during the ML-CIRRUS flight campaign, the applicability of our classification is demonstrated. Revealing the structure of cirrus clouds, this valuable tool might help to examine the influence of evolution stages on the cloud's net radiative effect and to investigate the specific variability of optical and microphysical cloud properties in upcoming research.

Short summary
Cirrus evolution from nucleation to cloud breakup can be investigated with a novel classification scheme based on airborne lidar data. Applying it to a case study from the ML-CIRRUS campaign, we investigate the impact of large-scale dynamics and small-scale gravity lee waves on the detailed spatial distribution of evolution stages in individual clouds. Our scheme may help to gain more insights in optical and radiative properties of cirrus under various formation and life cycle conditions.