The Impact of a Land-Sea Contrast on Convective Aggregation in Radiative-Convective Equilibrium

Beth Dingley*, Guy Dagan, Philip Stier, Ross Herbert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Convective aggregation is an important atmospheric phenomenon which frequently occurs in idealized models in radiative-convective equilibrium (RCE), where the effects of land, rotation, sea surface temperature gradients, and the diurnal cycle are often removed. This aggregation is often triggered and maintained by self-generated radiatively driven circulations, for which longwave feedbacks are essential. Many questions remain over how important the driving processes of aggregation in idealized models are in the real atmosphere. We approach this question by adding a continentally sized, idealized tropical rainforest island into an RCE model to investigate how land-sea contrasts impact convective aggregation and its mechanisms. We show that convection preferentially forms over the island persistently in our simulation. This is forced by a large-scale, thermally driven circulation. First, a sea-breeze circulation is triggered by the land-sea thermal contrast, driven by surface sensible heating. This sea-breeze circulation triggers convection which then generates longwave heating anomalies. Through mechanism denial tests we find that removing the longwave feedbacks reduces the large-scale effects of aggregation but does not prevent aggregation from occurring, and thus we highlight there must be another process aiding the aggregation of convection. We also show, by varying the island size, that the aggregated convective cluster appears to have a maximum spatial extent of (Formula presented.) (10,000 km). These results highlight that the mechanisms of idealized aggregation remain relevant when land is included in the model, and therefore these mechanisms could help us understand convective organization in the real world.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere2022MS003249
JournalJournal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of American Geophysical Union.


  • convection
  • convective aggregation
  • idealized models
  • land-sea contrasts
  • radiative-convective equilibrium
  • tropical convection


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