Recent Developments in Observation, Modeling, and Understanding Atmospheric Turbulence and Waves

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  • a NOAA/Aeronomy Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado
  • b NOAA/Environmental Technology Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

This review begins with a brief look at the early perspectives on turbulence and the role of Dave Atlas in the unfolding of mysteries concerning waves and turbulence as seen by powerful radars. The remainder of the review is concerned with recent developments that have resulted in part from several decades of radar and Doppler radar profiler research that have been built upon the earlier foundation.

A substantial part of this review is concerned with evaluating the intensity of atmospheric turbulence. The refractivity turbulence structure-function parameter C2n , where n is radio refractive index, is a common metric for evaluating the intensity of refractivity turbulence and progress has been made in evaluating its climatology. The eddy dissipation rate is a common measure of the intensity of turbulence and a key parameter in the Kolmogorov theory for locally homogeneous isotropic turbulence. Much progress has been made in the measurement of the eddy dissipation rate under a variety of meteorological conditions including within clouds and in the presence of precipitation. Recently, a new approach using dual frequencies has been utilized with improved results.

It has long been recognized that atmospheric turbulence especially under hydrostatically stable conditions is nonhomogeneous and layered. The layering means that the eddy dissipation and eddy diffusivity is highly variable especially in the vertical. There is ample observational evidence that layered fine structure is responsible for the aspect sensitive echoes observed by vertically directed very high frequency VHF profilers. In situ observations by several groups have verified that coherent submeter-scale structure is present in the refractivity field sufficient to account for the “clear air” radar echoes. However, despite some progress there is still no consensus on how these coherent structures are produced and maintained.

Advances in numerical modeling have led to new insights by simulating the structures observed by radars. This has been done utilizing direct numerical simulation (DNS) and large eddy simulation (LES). While DNS is especially powerful for examining the breaking of internal waves and the transition to turbulence, LES had been especially valuable in modeling the atmospheric boundary layer.

Internal gravity waves occupy the band of intrinsic frequencies bounded above by the Brunt–Väisälä frequency and below by the inertial frequency. These waves have many sources and several studies in the past decade have improved our understanding of their origin. Observational studies have shown that the amplitude of the mesoscale spectrum of motions is greater over mountainous regions than over flat terrain or oceans. Thus, it would appear that flow over nonuniform terrain is an important source for waves. Several numerical studies have successfully simulated the generation of internal waves from convection. Most of these are believed to result from deep convection with substantial wave motion extending into the upper troposphere, stratosphere, and mesosphere. Gravity waves known as convection waves are often seen in the stable free atmosphere that overlay convective boundary layers.

Abstract

This review begins with a brief look at the early perspectives on turbulence and the role of Dave Atlas in the unfolding of mysteries concerning waves and turbulence as seen by powerful radars. The remainder of the review is concerned with recent developments that have resulted in part from several decades of radar and Doppler radar profiler research that have been built upon the earlier foundation.

A substantial part of this review is concerned with evaluating the intensity of atmospheric turbulence. The refractivity turbulence structure-function parameter C2n , where n is radio refractive index, is a common metric for evaluating the intensity of refractivity turbulence and progress has been made in evaluating its climatology. The eddy dissipation rate is a common measure of the intensity of turbulence and a key parameter in the Kolmogorov theory for locally homogeneous isotropic turbulence. Much progress has been made in the measurement of the eddy dissipation rate under a variety of meteorological conditions including within clouds and in the presence of precipitation. Recently, a new approach using dual frequencies has been utilized with improved results.

It has long been recognized that atmospheric turbulence especially under hydrostatically stable conditions is nonhomogeneous and layered. The layering means that the eddy dissipation and eddy diffusivity is highly variable especially in the vertical. There is ample observational evidence that layered fine structure is responsible for the aspect sensitive echoes observed by vertically directed very high frequency VHF profilers. In situ observations by several groups have verified that coherent submeter-scale structure is present in the refractivity field sufficient to account for the “clear air” radar echoes. However, despite some progress there is still no consensus on how these coherent structures are produced and maintained.

Advances in numerical modeling have led to new insights by simulating the structures observed by radars. This has been done utilizing direct numerical simulation (DNS) and large eddy simulation (LES). While DNS is especially powerful for examining the breaking of internal waves and the transition to turbulence, LES had been especially valuable in modeling the atmospheric boundary layer.

Internal gravity waves occupy the band of intrinsic frequencies bounded above by the Brunt–Väisälä frequency and below by the inertial frequency. These waves have many sources and several studies in the past decade have improved our understanding of their origin. Observational studies have shown that the amplitude of the mesoscale spectrum of motions is greater over mountainous regions than over flat terrain or oceans. Thus, it would appear that flow over nonuniform terrain is an important source for waves. Several numerical studies have successfully simulated the generation of internal waves from convection. Most of these are believed to result from deep convection with substantial wave motion extending into the upper troposphere, stratosphere, and mesosphere. Gravity waves known as convection waves are often seen in the stable free atmosphere that overlay convective boundary layers.

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