Cloud, Aerosol, and Complex Terrain Interactions (CACTI)

15 August 2018 - 30 April 2019

Lead Scientist: Adam Varble

Observatory: AMF, COR

General circulation models and downscaled regional models exhibit persistent biases in deep convective initiation location and timing, cloud top height, stratiform area and precipitation fraction, and anvil coverage. Despite important impacts on the distribution of atmospheric heating, moistening, and momentum, nearly all climate models fail to represent convective organization, while system evolution is not represented at all. Improving representation of convective systems in models requires characterization of their predictability as a function of environmental conditions, and this characterization depends on observing many cases of convective initiation, non-initiation, organization, and non-organization.

The Cloud, Aerosol, and Complex Terrain Interactions (CACTI) field campaign in the Sierras de Córdoba mountain range of north-central Argentina is designed to improve understanding of cloud life cycle and organization in relation to environmental conditions so that cumulus, microphysics, and aerosol parameterizations in multiscale models can be improved. The Sierras de Córdoba has a high frequency of orographic boundary layer clouds, many reaching congestus depths, many initiating into deep convection, and some organizing into mesoscale systems uniquely observable from a single fixed site. Some systems even grow upscale to become among the deepest, largest, and longest-lived in the world. These systems likely contribute to an observed regional trend of increasing extreme rainfall, and poor prediction of them likely contributes to a warm, dry bias in climate models downstream of the Sierras de Córdoba in a key agricultural region.

Many environmental factors influence the convective life cycle in this region, including orographic, low-level jet, and frontal circulations, surface fluxes, synoptic vertical motions influenced by the Andes, cloud detrainment, and aerosol properties. Local and long-range transport of smoke resulting from biomass burning, as well as blowing dust, is common in the austral spring. Changes in land surface properties as the wet season progresses impact surface fluxes and boundary layer evolution on daily and seasonal time scales that feed back to cloud and rainfall generation. This range of environmental conditions and cloud properties coupled with a high frequency of events makes the Sierras de Córdoba an ideal location to improve understanding of cloud-environment interactions.

The following primary science questions will be addressed through coordinated ARM Climate Research Facility and guest instrumentation observations:

  • How are the properties and life cycles of orographically generated cumulus humulis, mediocris, and congestus clouds affected by environmental kinematics, thermodynamics, aerosols, and surface properties? How do these cloud types alter these environmental conditions?
  • How do environmental kinematics, thermodynamics, and aerosols impact deep convective initiation, upscale growth, and mesoscale organization?
  • How are soil moisture, surface fluxes, and aerosol properties altered by deep convective precipitation events and seasonal accumulation of precipitation?


Eldo Avila Sonia Kreidenweis Paola Salio
Paul DeMott L. Ruby Leung Sue van den Heever
David Gochis Greg McFarquhar Christopher Williams
Robert Houze Steve Nesbitt Edward Zipser
Michael Jensen Kristen Rasmussen
Pavlos Kollias David Romps