1Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA, USA
2National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, USA
3Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, New York, USA
4Public Policy Center, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA
5Center for Sustainability Research, Universidad Andrés Bello, Santiago, Chile
Abstract. This study assesses the ability of the recent chemistry version (v3.3) of the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF-Chem) model to simulate boundary layer structure, aerosols, stratocumulus clouds, and energy fluxes over the Southeast Pacific Ocean. Measurements from the VAMOS Ocean-Cloud-Atmosphere-Land Study Regional Experiment (VOCALS-REx) and satellite retrievals (i.e., products from the MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), Clouds and Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES), and GOES-10) are used for this assessment. The Morrison double-moment microphysics scheme is newly coupled with interactive aerosols in the model. The 31-day (15 October–16 November 2008) WRF-Chem simulation with aerosol-cloud interactions (AERO hereafter) is also compared to a simulation (MET hereafter) with fixed cloud droplet number concentrations in the microphysics scheme and simplified cloud and aerosol treatments in the radiation scheme. The well-simulated aerosol quantities (aerosol number, mass composition and optical properties), and the inclusion of full aerosol-cloud couplings lead to significant improvements in many features of the simulated stratocumulus clouds: cloud optical properties and microphysical properties such as cloud top effective radius, cloud water path, and cloud optical thickness. In addition to accounting for the aerosol direct and semi-direct effects, these improvements feed back to the simulation of boundary-layer characteristics and energy budgets. Particularly, inclusion of interactive aerosols in AERO strengthens the temperature and humidity gradients within the capping inversion layer and lowers the marine boundary layer (MBL) depth by 130 m from that of the MET simulation. These differences are associated with weaker entrainment and stronger mean subsidence at the top of the MBL in AERO. Mean top-of-atmosphere outgoing shortwave fluxes, surface latent heat, and surface downwelling longwave fluxes are in better agreement with observations in AERO, compared to the MET simulation. Nevertheless, biases in some of the simulated meteorological quantities (e.g., MBL temperature and humidity) and aerosol quantities (e.g., underestimations of accumulation mode aerosol number) might affect simulated stratocumulus and energy fluxes over the Southeastern Pacific, and require further investigation. The well-simulated timing and outflow patterns of polluted and clean episodes demonstrate the model's ability to capture daily/synoptic scale variations of aerosol and cloud properties, and suggest that the model is suitable for studying atmospheric processes associated with pollution outflow over the ocean. The overall performance of the regional model in simulating mesoscale clouds and boundary layer properties is encouraging and suggests that reproducing gradients of aerosol and cloud droplet concentrations and coupling cloud-aerosol-radiation processes are important when simulating marine stratocumulus over the Southeast Pacific.