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Importance of Boundary Layer Processes For Surface Fluxes

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October 20, 2011
Erica McGrath-Spangler
Hosted by Scott Denning (advisor), Colette Heald, Dave Randall, Dusanka Zupanski (affiliate), Jennifer Hoeting (Statistics)


An idealized experiment examined the impacts of entrainment in a coupled ecosystem-atmosphere model by implementing an enhanced entrainment parameterization based on the assumption that the heat flux at the top of the PBL is negatively proportional to the heat flux at the surface. This experiment found that entrainment produced a warmer, drier, and deeper PBL and that the surface fluxes of heat and moisture were modified by the vegetative response to the altered atmospheric conditions. A realistic simulation for the summer of 1999 found that enhanced entrainment produced stronger early morning growth of the PBL and a deeper midday depth. This better captured the monthly mean diurnal cycle of PBL depth from observations by a radar sounding system in northern Wisconsin. Additionally, the complex land-atmosphere interactions produced a time-mean spatial CO2 gradient of 7 ppm over 1000 km. A sensitivity analysis performed for June 2007 to the strength of the PBL-top entrainment flux found subtle spatial variations in the time mean. The addition of entrainment from overshooting thermals weakened the Bermuda high circulation and weakened the spatial gradients from the warm, dry semiarid southwestern United States and cooler, moister locations in North America. These subtle variations produced a 3.5 ppm CO2 change in the time mean across 280 km. One possible explanation for these more subtle results is that changes to the coupled model resulted in persistent cloud cover that produced relatively cold and dark conditions.

In order to evaluate and improve model simulations, PBL depth can be estimated using the backscatter from the LIDAR onboard the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) satellite. Using an automated method, millions of estimates can be derived to which model results can be compared. This method evaluates the maximum vertical variance of the backscatter in order to identify backscatter features associated with the top of the PBL and helps to identify the vertical extent of turbulent mixing. This analysis sheds some light on the spatial heterogeneity of boundary layer processes. The derived depths are shallower over water than over land and show a local minimum along the Mississippi River valley. Deeper features are found over the desert Southwest and deeper than expected values are retrieved over the Boreal forests.