Atmospheric and Climate Sciences, 2011, 2, 113-119
doi:10.4236/acs.2011.13013 Published Online July 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ACS
Cirrus Clouds and Multiple Tropopause Events over
Buenos Aires
Susan Gabriela Lakkis1,2*, Mario Lavorato3, Pablo Osvaldo Canziani2,4, Héctor Lacomi3
1Facultad de Ciencias Agrarias, Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina, Puetro Madero, Argentina
2Equipo Interdisciplinario para el Estudio del Cambio Global, Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina, Puetro
Madero, Argentina
3División Radar Laser, CEILAP (CITEFA – CONICET), Buenos Aires, Argenti na
4Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), Argentina
Received March 10, 2011; revised April 15, 2011; accepted April 29, 2011
Lidar measurements of midlatitude cirrus clouds over Buenos Aires, collected between 2002 and 2003, are
compared with multiple tropopauses (MT) retrieved from rawinsonde temperature retrievals. Results derived
from the rawinsondes display MT events with an annual cycle which are fewest in March. Comparison with
lidar observations shows that cirrus clouds are mostly located closely below the first tropopause, but when
cloud top is above the first tropopause, in 25% of cases, the cloud base is not above it, resulting in a cirrus
cloud crossing the inter-tropopause region. Compared with the distribution of the whole population of mid-
latitude cirrus clouds, cross-tropopause cirrus clouds display a similar geometrical thickness as in-
ter-tropopause cirrus clouds.
Keywords: Multitropopause Events, Cirrus Clouds, Lidar
1. Introduction
Cirrus clouds play an important but uncertain role in the
Earth’s climate system 1. They cover about 30% of the
Earth’s surface at any one time, and play an important
role in the Earth’s climate system owing to their capabil-
ity of trapping outgoing long-wave (greenhouse effect)
and reflecting solar radiation (albedo effect) as well as in
the troposphere – stratosphere exchange 2. Due to their
ubiquitous nature and higher altitude, the properties of
these ice clouds are particularly difficult to characterize.
Moreover, the properties of tropical cirrus are distinct
from those of the midlatitudes. While the cirrus clouds
form at higher altitudes and where temperatures are
much lower, is usually termed as “cold cirrus”, its coun-
terpart in midlatitudes forming at relatively lower alti-
tudes associated with comparatively higher temperatures
are called “warm cirrus” 3. Moreover, at small scale,
their properties are directly related to the local phenom-
ena 4, and therefore it is difficult to ascertain if they
can be parameterized with accuracy, even when only
considering constrained latitude areas 5. Since cirrus
cloud population may be increasing as consequence of
the climate change, improving our understanding of these
clouds is an important challenge.
The tropopause is a layer formed due to natural atmos-
pheric temperature inversion, which separates the tropo-
sphere from stratosphere. This layer is recognized as a
key feature of the atmospheric structure at all latitudes;
i.e., polar, mid latitudes and tropics, and an overall un-
derstanding both of the upper troposphere - lower strato-
sphere (UTLS) and of the stratosphere-troposphere ex-
change (STE) is dependent on our ability to quantify and
describe tropopause structures and their evolution in time
The tropopause or rather the tropopause layer 10 in
simple terms determines the boundary between the tro-
posphere and stratosphere, which has fundamentally dif-
ferent characteristics with respect to chemical composi-
tion and static stability. The tropopause can be thus
viewed as the transition zone between the turbulently
mixed troposphere and the more stable stratified strato-
sphere 11, affecting both the dynamics and the chemis-
try. This natural layer plays a significant role in the STE
as various minor constituents enter stratosphere from
troposphere through this region and vice versa 12. Due
to the high altitude of the cirrus clouds, their formation
process as well as their evolution may be related to the
upper troposphere-lower stratosphere coupled system;
thus, studying UTLS conditions could provide insights
on cirrus clouds formation processes and their properties
13. The tropopause temperature could influence the
clouds altitude and therefore, the thermodynamic of the
atmosphere; hence, the variability in the tropopause
could affect the properties of the tropopause cirri, espe-
cially those located within the UTLS area. The multiple
inversions in the UTLS area represent the tropopause
events (MT). Considering that the variability in the ther-
modynamic structure of the tropopause could affect the
properties of the tropopause cirri, several recent analysis
have focused on tropical and midlatitude tropopause cirri
properties, bearing in mind that temperature inversion
has a constraining effect on cloud altitude 2,14,15.
Recently Nöel and Haeffelin 13, analyzed the cirrus
clouds and multiple tropopause events correlation over
Sirta by means of the ratio of the distance between the
first tropopause and cloud top to the distance between
MT. Using this definition about the ratio defined by them,
we studied the MT events but over Buenos Aires (EZE;
34.6S, 58.5W) during 2002-2003 and attempts to inves-
tigate the possible relationship between MT events and
cirrus clouds occurrence.
2. Observations
To analyze the behaviour of the multiple tropopauses re-
lated to cirrus clouds, in situ rawinsondes and remote-
sensing observations collected between 2002 and 2003
were used for the present analysis. Tropopause levels
were retrieved from temperature profiles obtained throu-
gh a data set of radiosoundings launched (12 UTC) from
the Servicio Meteorológico Nacional (SMN). The simul-
taneous study of ice clouds involved finding a data sour-
ce suited to the detection and analysis the cirrus clouds.
Various techniques have been developed during the
past decades to detect cloud occurrences from passive
remote-sensing observations by spaceborne radiometers
16, satellite observations and analysis using passive
cloud-imager data, such as cloud-top height (e.g., 17,18)
or microphysical properties 19. Nonetheless these
techniques can include significant biases due to the ubiq-
uitous and semitransparent nature of those clouds. This
precludes the use of passive remote-sensing data to study
interactions between the thermodynamic structure near
the UTLS and cirrus cloud properties. Therefore, other
observations are required to obtain a realistic estimate of
the ice cloud cover. Due to the capability of the laser
beam to point upward into the atmosphere and their high
sensitivity to atmospheric layers, lidar system have be-
come the standard tool to analyze the clouds and their
time and spatial evolution. Moreover, most modern lidar
systems are equipped with the ability to read the polari-
zation state of the backscattered light 20, providing
insights into the cloud phase 21, geometric and optical
properties 2 and microphysical properties 22
The elastic backscatter lidar used for the present work
is located in Villa Martelli near Buenos Aires and is
based on Nd: YAG laser transmitter (Continuun – Sure-
lite II) which delivers around 500 mJ by pulse at 532 nm
with a 10 Hz pulse rate, 5 ns pulse duration, with a tilt
angle less than 0.6 mrad. A dual telescope receiver is
used to handle the large signal dynamic range. An 8.2 cm
diameter Cassegrain telescope covers the range between
50 m to 6 km, while a 50 cm diameter Newtonian tele-
scope covers from 500 m up to 28 km. The two tele-
scopes are pointed at zenith. A field of view less than 1.5
mrad is normally used for both telescopes.To avoid pos-
sible, unwanted inclusion of altocumulus, i.e., of water
clouds, we restricted the present campaign to clouds with
a cloud base height 6 km, a criterion that coincides
with the definition of cirrus clouds given by the Interna-
tional Coordination group on Laser Atmospheric Studies
(ICLAS): cirrus clouds derived from lidar measurements
are layers of particle above 6 km situated in an air mass
with temperature of –25˚C or colder which in addition
display a large temporal and spatial variability.
3. Multitropopause Events
In spite of its essential role in the atmosphere, the tro-
popause can still present not very well-known behaviours
and the thermal structure of the tropopause layer can be
quite complex, specially in midlatitude regions 13. The
thermal or lapse-rate tropopause definition is based on
the variability in lapse rate in an atmospheric tempera-
ture profile. In the most commonly used definition, the
conventional tropopause is defined by the World Mete-
orological Organization (WMO) 23 as the “lowest le-
vel at which the lapse rate decreases to 2˚C /km or less,
provided also the averaged lapse rate between this level
and all higher levels within 2 km does not exceed 2˚C/
km”. The WMO definition also allows additional tro-
popauses above the first one if the average lapse rate
between any level above the first tropopause and all
higher levels within 1 km exceeds 3˚C/km. This defini-
tion, which is used in the rest of the present study, actu-
ally reflects dynamical disturbances to the temperature
profile like jet streams or upper-level fronts, resulting in
multiple temperature inversions in the UTLS 24 that
can lead to tropopause folding and mixing of strato-
spheric and tropospheric air 11. Due to the ambiguity
of the thermal tropopause definition with respect to the
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ACS
different processes involved in both hemispheres 7
which are also used to define it, e.g., chemical tropo-
pause and dynamical tropopause, it should be noted that
when we refer to tropopause, the Extratropical Tropo-
pause Layer (ExTL) as explained in Bischoff et al. 25
is considered.
Analysis of 2000 temperature profiles from the Bue-
nos Aires radiosoundings on the 2002-2003 period shows
that multiple tropopauses occur in near 30% of cases,
with a third tropopause in 10% of cases (not shown) .
Additional tropopauses were considered to be negligible.
Figure 1 shows the annual cycle of MT occurrences,
averaged over the 2002-2003 period. The vertical bars
(one standard deviation) represent the 2002-2003 in-
terannual variability, confirming the significance of the
annual cycle. The tropopause temperature and pressure
Figure 1. Annual frequencies of multiple tropopauses over
Buenos Aires, averaged on 2002-2003 period.
Figure 2. Annual evolution of the mean tropopause alti-
tudes and the mean inter-tropopause thickness (thick line)
during the 2002-2003 period.
are known to exhibit quasi-biennial oscillation and long-
term fluctuations 26 than can affect both the annual
cycle and the interannual variability. The annual MT
occurrence cycle begins with high occurrences close to
20% in January, followed by the first minimum in March
(13%). The first maximum is reached during May with
percentages near 29%, followed by a second maximum
reached during August (23%). High MT occurrences in
April-June and August-September coincide with the
higher occurrences of fronts or jets. These values are
consistent with results from Bischoff et al., (2007) who
found, based on 9000 rawinsonde data, occurrences over
Buenos Aires (EZE) for double tropopause close to 25%
in March and maximum occurrence ( 42%) in late win-
ter and early spring.
Figure 2 shows the annual cycle of tropopause alti-
tudes and the mean intertropopause thickness (IT) con-
sidering only the first and second tropopauses of the data.
The IT can be defined as the distance between the lowest
and higher tropopauses. The minimum and maximum
altitudes are reached in February-September and June-
October respectively.
The monthly mean altitude of the first tropopause var-
ies 2.4 km between February-October (from 11.4 to 13.8),
while that of the second tropopause varies almost 2.6 km
(from 18.7 to 16.1 km). The IT annual cycle displays a
minimum in October (2.2 km) and two maximum be-
tween April-August. These maximums may be correlated
with the increase in MT frequency over the same period
(Figure 1), but with its first maximum centered in July
instead June. The averaged IT thickness spreads from 2.8
km to 6.4 km.
4. Cirrus Clouds and Multiple Tropopauses
The distribution of cirrus occurrence with cloud tempera-
ture for the dataset under study (80 cases) shows that cir-
ri population is constrained between –75˚C and –55˚C,
with cirrus sightings increasing in the temperature range
from –70˚C to –65˚C. Almost the 75% of these clouds
were observed with the relative humidity close to 80% in
As Protat et al. 27 exposed, the frequency of cirrus
detection is variable over the year, but it is not possible
yet to determine if this is due to a change in the popula-
tion of cirrus clouds or to sampling effects. It is impor-
tant to note that even when the lidar was operating con-
tinuously some cirrus are sometimes not detected by the
system due to the presence of low clouds; therefore the
comparison between the occurrence of the tropopause
events with the cirrus detected is a pointless exercise.
Nevertheless, comparing the properties of multiple tro-
popause and cirrus clouds on days when both are de-
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ACS
tected can reveal correlations between the two phenom-
This study focuses on the relationship between the
tropopause(s) and cirrus clouds. In order to avoid possi-
ble, unwanted inclusion of altocumulus, i.e., of water
clouds, we restricted the present analysis to clouds with a
cloud base height 7 km, which implies an amount of
41.600 lidar profiles for 2002-2003 period.
The distance between cloud-top altitudes and the low-
est tropopause is shown in Figure 3(a) for all clouds
with top altitudes above 7 km. Positive (negative) values
indicate cloud-top altitudes above (below) the first tro-
popause. Clearly, most cloud-top altitudes are located
below but very close to the first tropopause; that is, cirrus
clouds are very likely stuck right under the tropopause
and thus, these tropopause cirrus can be viewed as tro-
popause tracers as was reported by Lakkis et al. 2.
Clouds with tops above the first tropopause occur in 25%
of the observations, out of which almost 90% occur in
MT events; therefore for these cases, a possible relation-
ship between tops and second tropopause disserves to be
analyzed. In order to evaluate this correlation and how
much of this region is filled by clouds, we use the ratio
of the distance between cloud top and first tropopause to
the distance between the first and second tropopauses,
proposed for Noël and Haefelin 12. This ratio is 0 for
clouds’ tops close to the first tropopause and 1 for those
close to the second. Figure 3(b) shows the distribution
positively skewed of the ratio. In the 75% of the cases
the ratio is below 0.4, meaning that cloud tops occupy a
limited region between the first and second tropopauses,
with their top in the lower 40% of the intertropopause
zone, while ratio is above 0.6 in 15% of the cases which
means that these cloud tops span the entire region. No
cirrus cloud was detected with a top altitude above the
second tropopause; thus it is possible to infer that these
clouds live in an unstable temperature profile which con-
tributes a fraction of them to expand vertically until they
reach the second tropopause.
Figure 4 shows the distributions of cloud-base altitude
for those cloud tops that extend above the first tro-
popause. As shown in the plot, the distribution appears
negatively skewed and cirrus clouds have most frequent-
ly their base altitude between 4 and 1 km below the first
tropopause, with a maximum centered close to 2, 5 km
below the lower tropopause. By considering Figures 4
and 3(a), it is important to note that all the cirri presented
are located close to the first tropopause and below the
second tropopause; i.e., cirrus that cross the intertro-
popause zone, but there are no clouds entirely contained
in the intertropopause region. During the whole time of
each observation (up to 9 hours), the cloud remains in-
side the limits defined by the first and second tropopau-
Figure 3. (a) Distribution of distance between the first tro-
popause and cross-tropopause cirrus cloud tops, (b) ratio of
the cloud top to first tropopause distance on the distance
between fir st and se cond tropopauses.
ses; therefore the second tropopause seems to act as a
cloud-top ceiling. Following the criteria adopted by Noël
and Haeffelin 12 and considering clod top and base
values it is possible to classify cirrus clouds in two
groups defined by the location of their boundaries with
respect to the first and second tropopause: the first group
with cloud top altitudes below the first tropopause (75%)
as tropospheric cirrus, while the second one, with cloud
top altitude within the intertropopause, as cross-cirrus
As an example of the dataset analyzed, a cloud ob-
served on 27 May 2003 is shown in Figure 5(a). The
first and second tropopauses are marked with solid lines,
at 10.9 and 12.8 km, respectively, and seem to be relevant
in the temperature profile from the 12 UT radiosounding
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ACS
Figure 4. Distribution of distance between cloud base and
the first tropopause.
Figure 5. (a) Backscattering coefficients observed by the
lidar on 27 May 2003 as a function of time and altitude, (b)
Temperature profile from radiosoundings on 27 May 2003.
On both figures, the first two tropopauses are indicated
using solid lines.
(Figure 5(b)).
Finally, we study the geometrical thickness for the
cirrus with top above the first tropopause. The distribu-
tion of geometrical thickness for cross cirrus is presented
in Figure 6. The measured values of geometrical thick-
ness, conforming a negatively skewed distribution of thi-
ck cirrus, are found to extend over a range of 1 to 5 km
with peak occurrence (65%) confined to a narrow range
of 1 to 3 km. Nonetheless these values are not different
of those derived from tropospheric cirrus clouds. Figure
7 shows geometrical thickness for all the dataset under
analysis. Therefore, it is not possible to highlight specific
properties of the cross cirrus compared with the rest of
the cirrus population and to establish relationships be-
tween thickness and multiple tropopause events could
not be argued. However this thickness value confirms
them (cross and troposheric cirrus) as thick cirrus, con-
Figure 6. Distribution of cloud geometrical thickness for
observations during 2002-2003 for cirrus clouds between
the two tropopauses.
Figure 7. Distribution of cloud geometrical thickness for the
whole observations during 2002-2003.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. ACS
sidering the standard lidar terminology and it appears the
conclusion reached in Lakkis et al. 2 still hold true for
the extended dataset.
5. Conclusions
In this study multitropopause events related with cirrus
clouds were analyzed. Using lidar technique it was pos-
sible to compare cirrus cloud-top and bases altitudes.
Regarding the MT events, the annual cycle of MT
shows that high MT occurrence appears in April-June
and August-September in coincidence with the higher
occurrences of fronts or jets. The IT annual cycle picture
displays a minimum in October and two maximum be-
tween April-August. These maximums may be correlated
with the increase in MT frequency over the same period
(Figure 1). The averaged IT thickness spreads from 2.8
km to 6.4 km.
The study of cloud-top and base altitude respect to
tropopause altitude reveals that most cirrus clouds are
contained below the lower tropopause, but representative
part of them crosses the tropopauses. There were not
detected cirrus clouds totally contained between the first
and second tropopause. The frequency of occurrence of
the cirrus clouds increases with decreasing distance be-
tween cloud top and the first tropopause as Figure 3(a)
shows. With the same trend, clouds are more frequent as
cloud bases get closer to the tropopause; nevertheless,
the maximum occurrence was found 3 - 2 km below the
tropopause (Figure 4). These results enhance the conclu-
sions about cirrus as tropopause tracers highlighted in
Lakkis et al. 2.
The geometrical thickness values, both the tropo-
spheric and cross cirrus, are found to extend over a range
of 1 to 5 km with peak occurrence confined to a narrow
range of 1 to 3 km, therefore it is not possible to differ-
entiate different characteristics for each group of clouds.
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