Dimensionless parameters for cloudy Rayleigh-Bénard convection: Supersaturation, Damköhler, and Nusselt numbers

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Department of Physics


In steady-state Rayleigh-Bénard convection, heat is transported by turbulent thermal convection from the bottom, hot surface to the top, cold surface, leading to a height-independent sensible heat flux. When water vapor is present and cloud formation occurs, there is also an additional latent heat flux. Heat transport in cloudy Rayleigh-Bénard convection depends on turbulent flow as well as the microphysical state of the clouds: specifically, whether substantial supersaturations exist and whether cloud liquid water is removed through sedimentation/precipitation. In this article we bridge between the Rayleigh-Bénard convection literature and the atmospheric literature. We express the governing equations for cloudy convection in dimensionless form, thereby explicitly identifying the governing parameters relevant to the cloudy case, including Schmidt, Damköhler, supersaturation, and sedimentation numbers. We further connect to the atmospheric literature by obtaining a Nusselt number (dimensionless heat flux) for a cloud-convection system, directly from the conservation equations for temperature and water vapor. This flux has the same form as that identified by Zhang et al. [L. Zhang, K. L. Chong, and K.-Q. Xia, J. Fluid Mech. 874, 1041 (2019)10.1017/jfm.2019.463] for convection with water vapor, but is extended to the cloudy case. For equal thermal and water vapor diffusivities, the flux corresponds to the widely used atmospheric quantities equivalent temperature and moist static energy. Using large eddy simulation (LES) of an idealized cloudy Rayleigh-Bénard convection system with fixed boundary conditions, we find that the equivalent heat flux (Nusselt number) is only weakly dependent on the microphysical details of the system, such as liquid water mixing ratio and cloud droplet number concentration. From the results, we show the vertical profiles of sensible and latent heat fluxes depend on the liquid water content, whereas the equivalent heat flux remains a constant throughout the height of the chamber.

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Physical Review Fluids