Buoyant turbulence kinetic energy (TKE) production in katabatic flow despite stable thermal stratification

As micrometeorological research shifts to increasingly non-idealized environments, the lens through which we view classical atmospheric boundary layer theory must also shift to accommodate unfamiliar behavior. We present observations of katabatic flow over a steep (35.5 degree), alpine slope and draw comparisons with classical theory for nocturnal boundary layers (NBL) over flat terrain to delineate key physical differences and similarities. In both cases, the NBL is characterized by a strong, terrain-aligned thermal stratification. Over flat terrain, this temperature inversion tends to stabilize perturbations and suppresses vertical motions. Hence, the buoyancy term in the TKE budget equation acts as a sink. In contrast, the steep-slope katabatic flow regime is characterized by buoyant TKE production despite NBL thermal stratification. This buoyant TKE production occurs because streamwise (upslope) heat fluxes, which are typically treated as unimportant over flat terrain, contribute to the total vertical buoyancy flux since the gravity vector is not terrain-normal. Due to a relatively small number of observations over steep terrain, the turbulence structure of such flows and the implications of buoyant TKE production in the NBL have gone largely unexplored. As an important consequence of this characteristic, we show that conventional stability characterizations require careful coordinate system alignment and interpretation for katabatic flows. The streamwise heat fluxes play an integral role in characterizing stability and turbulent transport, more broadly, in katabatic flows. Therefore, multi-scale statistics and budget analyses describing physical interactions between turbulent fluxes at various scales are presented to interpret similarities and differences between the observations and classical theories regarding streamwise heat fluxes.

Presented at:
American Geophysical Union (AGU), San Francisco, California, USA, December 14-18, 2015

 Record created 2016-01-20, last modified 2018-01-28

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