Physical mechanisms controlling the initiation of convective self-aggregation in a General Circulation Model
Cloud-resolving models have shown that under certain conditions, the Radiative-Convective Equilibrium (RCE) could become unstable and lead to the spontaneous organization of the atmosphere into dry and wet areas, and the aggregation of convection. In this study, we show that this "self-aggregation" behavior also occurs in nonrotating RCE simulations performed with the IPSL-CM5A-LR General Circulation Model (GCM), and that it exhibits a strong dependence on sea surface temperature (SST). We investigate the physical mechanisms that control the initiation of self-aggregation in this model, and their dependence on temperature. At low SSTs, the onset of self-aggregation is primarily controlled by the coupling between low-cloud radiative effects and shallow circulations and the formation of "radiatively driven cold pools" in areas devoid of deep convection, while at high SSTs it is primarily controlled by the coupling between surface fluxes and circulation within convective areas. At intermediate temperatures, the occurrence of self-aggregation is less spontaneous and depends on initial conditions, but it can arise through a combination of both mechanisms. Through their coupling to circulation and surface fluxes, the radiative effects of low-level clouds play a critical role in both initiation mechanisms, and the sensitivity of boundary layer clouds to surface temperature explains to a large extent the temperature dependence of convective self-aggregation. At any SST, the presence of cloud-radiative effects in the free troposphere is necessary to the initiation, growth, and maintenance of convective aggregation.