Future of Cumulus Parametrization conference, Delft, July 10-14, 2017

For a small city, Delft punches above its weight. It is famous for many things, including its celebrated Delftware (Figure 1). It was also the birthplace of one of the Dutch masters, Johannes Vermeer, who coincidentally painted some fine cityscapes with cumulus clouds in them (Figure 2). There is a university of technology with some impressive architecture (Figure 3). It holds the dubious honour of being the location of the first assassination using a pistol (or so we were told by our tour guide), when William of Orange was shot in 1584. To this list, it can now add hosting a one-week conference on the future of cumulus parametrization, and hopefully bringing about more of these conferences in the future.

Figure 1: Delftware.

Figure 2: Delft with canopy of cumulus clouds. By Johannes Vermeer, 1661.

Figure 3: AULA conference centre at Delft University of Technology – where we were based for the duration of the conference.

So what is a cumulus parametrization scheme? The key idea is as follows. Numerical weather and climate models work by splitting the atmosphere into a grid, with a corresponding grid length representing the length of each of the grid cells. By solving equations that govern how the wind, pressure and heating interact, models can then be used to predict what the weather will be like days in advance in the case of weather modelling. Or a model can predict how the climate will react to any forcings over longer timescales. However, any phenomena that are substantially smaller than this grid scale will not be “seen” by the models. For example, a large cumulonimbus cloud may have a horizontal extent of around 2km, whereas individual grid cells could be 50km in the case of a climate model. A cumulonimbus cloud will therefore not be explicitly modelled, but it will still have an effect on the grid cell in which it is located – in terms of how much heating and moistening it produces at different levels. To capture this effect, the clouds are parametrized, that is, the vertical profile of the heating and moistening due to the clouds are calculated based on the conditions in the grid cell, and this then affects the grid-scale values of these variables. A similar idea applies for shallow cumulus clouds, such as the cumulus humilis in Vermeer’s painting (Figure 2), or present-day Delft (Figure 3).

These cumulus parametrization schemes are a large source of uncertainty in current weather and climate models. The conference was aimed at bringing together the community of modellers working on these schemes, and working out which might be the best directions to go in to improve these schemes, and consequently weather and climate models.

Each day was a mixture of listening to presentations, looking at posters and breakout discussion groups in the afternoon, as well as plenty of time for coffee and meeting new people. The presentations covered a lot of ground: from presenting work on state-of-the-art parametrization schemes, to looking at how the schemes perform in operational models, to focusing on one small aspect of a scheme and modelling how that behaves in a high resolution model (50m resolution) that can explicitly model individual clouds. The posters were a great chance to see the in-depth work that had been done, and to talk to and exchange ideas with other scientists.

Certain ideas for improving the parametrization schemes resurfaced repeatedly. The need for scale-awareness, where the response of the parametrization scheme takes into account the model resolution, was discussed. One idea for doing this was the use of stochastic schemes to represent the uncertainty of the number of clouds in a given grid cell. The concept of memory also cropped up – where the scheme remembers if it had been active at a given grid cell in a previous point in time. This also ties into the idea of transitions between cloud regimes, e.g. when a stratocumulus layer splits up into individual cumulus clouds. Many other, sometimes esoteric, concepts were discussed, such as the role of cold pools, how much tuning of climate models is desirable and acceptable, how we should test our schemes, and what the process of developing the schemes should look like.

In the breakout groups, everyone was encouraged to contribute, which made for an inclusive atmosphere in which all points of view were taken on board. Some of the key points of agreement from these were that it was a good idea to have these conferences, and we should do it more often! Hopefully, in two years’ time, another PhD student will write a post on how the next meeting has gone. We also agreed that it would be beneficial to be able to share data from our different high resolution runs, as well as to be able to compare code for the different schemes.

The conference provided a picture of what the current thinking on cumulus parametrization is, as well as which directions people think are promising for the future. It also provided a means for the community to come together and discuss ideas for how to improve these schemes, and how to collaborate more closely with future projects such as ParaCon and HD(CP)2.

The impact of vegetation structure on global photosynthesis

The partitioning of shortwave radiation by vegetation into absorbed, reflected, and transmitted terms is important for most biogeophysical processes including photosynthesis. The most commonly used radiative transfer scheme in climate models does not explicitly account for vegetation architectural effects on shortwave radiation partitioning, and even though detailed 3D radiative transfer schemes have been developed, they are often too computationally expensive and require a large number of parameters.

Using a simple parameterisation, we modified a 1D radiative transfer scheme to simulate the radiative balance consistently with 3D representations. Canopy structure is typically treated via a so called “clumping” factor which acts to reduce the effective leaf area index (LAI) and hence fAPAR (fraction of absorbed photosynthetically radiation, 400-700 nm). Consequently from a production efficiency standpoint it seems intuitive that any consideration of clumping can only lead to reduce GPP (Gross Primary Productivity).  We show, to the contrary, that the dominant effect of clumping in more complex models should be to increase photosynthesis on global scales.

The Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES) has recently been modified to include clumping information on a per-plant functional type (PFT) basis (Williams et al., 2017). Here we further modify JULES to read in clumping for each PFT in each grid cell independently. We used a global clumping map derived from MODIS data (He et al., 2012) and ran JULES 4.6 for the year 2008 both with and without clumping using the GL4.0 configuration forced with the WATCH-Forcing-Data-ERA-Interim data set (Weedon et al., 2014). We compare our results against the MTE (Model Tree Ensemble) GPP global data set (Beer et al., 2010).

Fig. 1 shows an almost ubiquitous increase in GPP globally when clumping is included in JULES. In general this improves agreement against the MTE data set (Fig. 2). Spatially the only significant areas where the performance is degraded are some tropical grasslands and savannas (not shown). This is likely due to other model problems, in particular the limited number of PFTs used to represent all vegetation globally. The explanation for the increase in GPP and its spatial pattern is shown in Fig 3. JULES uses a multi-layered canopy scheme coupled to the Farquhar photosynthesis scheme (Farquhar et al., 1980). Changing fAPAR (by including clumping in this case) has largest impacts where GPP is light limited, and this is especially true in tropical forests.

References

Beer, C. et al. 2010. Terrestrial gross carbon dioxide uptake: global distribution and covariation with climate. Science329(5993), pp.834-838.

Farquhar, G.D. et al. 1980. A biochemical model of photosynthetic CO2 assimilation in leaves of C3 species. Planta, 149, 78–90.

He, L. et al. 2012. Global clumping index map derived from the MODIS BRDF product. Remote Sensing of Environment119, pp.118-130.

Weedon, G. P. et al. 2014. The WFDEI meteorological forcing data set: WATCH Forcing Data methodology applied to ERA-Interim reanalysis data, Water Resour. Res., 50, 7505–7514.

Williams, K. et al. 2017. Evaluation of JULES-crop performance against site observations of irrigated maize from Mead, Nebraska. Geoscientific Model Development10(3), pp.1291-1320.