Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cold Start

In our previous post, we presented our simulation of clouds without rain. We started the atmospheric gas, the sandy island, and the watery sea, at a uniform 280 K (7°C). Water evaporated from the sea. The sand heated up in the sun. Hot air rose above the island and sucked moist air in from the sea. Clouds formed above the island, spread through the atmosphere, reflected the heat of the sun, and the world froze.

What if we start with a frozen world and a dry atmosphere? In our simulation of evaporation rate, no water will evaporate from a sea at 250 K (−23°C), so no clouds will form. We ran CC9, starting with the CS_0hr array, to find out what would happen. Our starting point is a uniform 250 K with no water vapor. We run with 350 W/m2 continuous heat from the Sun.

After 20 hrs, the sandy island has warmed to 276 K (3°C). At 30 hrs, the average cloud depth is 0.03 mm, which is so thin that we don't bother plotting the clouds as white cells. But at 40 hrs we start to see the first thin clouds, and the average power arriving from the Sun drops to 335 W/m2. At 50 hrs, the island reaches 283 K (10°C). From here on, it cools. At 100 hrs, the average cloud depth is 3.5 mm and only 120 W/m2 is arriving from the Sun. The sea reaches 267 K (−6°C), which is the warmest it will ever get. By 200 hrs, cloud depth is 7.2 mm and power arriving from the Sun is only 40 W/m2, as recored in CS_200hr.

We can see where the simulation is going to end up: a world kept frozen by immortal clouds. Regardless of our starting point, immortal clouds reflect the Sun's heat and cause the world to freeze.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Clouds Without Rain

Today we present Circulating Cells Version 9 (CC9), and we use it to find out what would happen if we had clouds without rain. The simulation implements the following features of clouds.

(1) Evaporation from surface water, as in Evaporation Rate.
(2) Condensation in rising air, as in Condensation Point and Condensation Rate.
(3) Cooling and warming by latent heat of evaporation, as in Latent Heat.
(4) Reflection of incoming sunlight, as in Simulated Clouds, Part I.

The simulation does not yet implement the following features of clouds.

(5) Absorption and emission of long-wave radiation, as in Simulated Clouds, Part II.
(6) Cooling and warming by latent heat of fusion, as in Latent Heat.
(7) Rain and snow.

If we set the simulated atmosphere's transparency fraction to 0.0, we make the atmospheric gas opaque to long-wave radiation. No radiation escapes into space from the surface blocks nor from the rows of gas cells below the top row, regardless of the distribution of clouds within the atmosphere. The top row of cells, which is our simulated tropopause, does all the radiating of heat into space. Although this opaque atmosphere is not realistic, it does mask the fact that our clouds do not in themselves absorb or emit long-wave radiation, allowing us to proceed with a simulation that is at least self-consistent. Thus the copy of CC9 that you can download today has the transparency fraction set to 0.0 by default.

We ignore the warming of rising air by freezing water droplets, and the cooling of falling air by melting ice crystals. We will add ice crystals to our simulation later. For now, we trust that the error caused by our omission is not so great as to overturn the observations we make today.

By ignoring rain and snow, we are ignoring a feature of clouds that is so important to our climate that our simulation produces an entirely fantastic result. To watch the simulation in action, download CC9 and follow the instructions at the top of the code to run the program on your computer. Get the CWR_0hr array file and load it with the Load button. You will see an atmosphere at a uniform 280 K, and down at the bottom, an island of sand in a sea of water, also at 280 K. Press Run and the simulation will begin. The CC9 code runs in "Day" mode by default, with 350 W/m2 arriving continuously from the sun.

Without rain and snow, any and all moisture that enters the atmosphere at the beginning of the simulation remains in the atmosphere for as long as the simulation runs. There is no means by which moisture can return to the surface of the planet. So long as the lower atmosphere is warm enough to absorb water vapor, however, the clouds can appear and disappear. The moisture they contain can either take the form of water vapor, as it will when the surrounding gas is warm, or it can take the form of water droplets, as it will when the surrounding gas is cold.

We represent clouds in our simulation with cells that are shaded white to gray. The thinnest clouds are white and the thickest are black. A cloud with 1 mm of water is white. A cloud with 12 mm of water is black. After 30 hours, the first white clouds appear over the island, the result of moist air from the sea being heated by the island and rising towards the tropopause. When it rises, it cools, and water vapor condenses to form the first clouds.

At 40 hours, the island reaches its peak temperature of around 311 K. After that, the clouds become more numerous. They reflect the Sun's light back into space. The surface begins to cool. After 150 hrs we end up with the following display.

There is fog over the sea and part of the island. There are thick clouds up in the tropopause. The average heat arriving at the surface from the Sun has dropped from 350 W/m2 to only 50 W/m2. The following graph shows how the atmosphere cools in the first 500 hrs.

Let us refer to the combined thickness of the clouds above a surface block as is its cloud cover. In our simulation, each 3 mm of cloud cover reflects 63% of incoming sunlight. If we press the Data button, a text window opens and here we will see a line of numbers printed every hour of simulation time. The first number is the time in hours, the second is the average cloud cover in millimeters. The third number is the average sunlight power penetrating to the surface through the cloud cover in Watt per square meter. After that we have four temperatures in Kelvin: average sand temperature, average water temperature, average surface gas temperature, and average tropopause temperature. We used these printed lines to obtain the data for the plot above.

After 3000 hrs, the tropopause has dropped to 158 K (−115°C) and the surface air is at 184 K (−85°C). The average cloud cover is 25 mm. Only 0.7 W/m2 arrives at the surface. You can see this for yourself by loading CWR_3000hr into the simulation. Even at 158 K, the tropopause is still radiating 35 W/m2, which is far more than the 0.7 W/m2 reaching the planet surface. The tropopause will keep cooling until it reaches 60 K, at which point it will be radiating 0.7 W/m2. Of course, at that point, nitrogen will condense into liquid.

If clouds remained aloft in the atmosphere indefinitely, the Earth would freeze. But in reality, clouds are forever falling towards the ground. They are made of droplets and crystals that are heavier than air. Rain and snow are what stop clouds from turning the Earth into a planet of frozen seas.