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Modeled Downward Transport of a Passive Tracer over Western North America during an Asian Dust Event in April 1998

Joshua P. HackerAtmospheric Science Program, Department of Geography and Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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Ian G. McKendryAtmospheric Science Program, Department of Geography and Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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Roland B. StullAtmospheric Science Program, Department of Geography and Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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Abstract

An intense Gobi Desert dust storm in April 1998 loaded the midtroposphere with dust that was transported across the Pacific to western North America. The Mesoscale Compressible Community (MC2) model was used to investigate mechanisms causing downward transport of the midtropospheric dust and to explain the high concentrations of particulate matter of less than 10-μm diameter measured in the coastal urban areas of Washington and southern British Columbia. The MC2 was initialized with a thin, horizontally homogeneous layer of passive tracer centered at 650 hPa for a simulation from 0000 UTC 26 April to 0000 UTC 30 April 1998. Model results were in qualitative agreement with observed spatial and temporal patterns of particulate matter, indicating that it captured the important meteorological processes responsible for the horizontal and vertical transport over the last few days of the dust event. A second simulation was performed without topography to isolate the effects of topography on downward transport.

Results show that the dust was advected well east of the North American coast in southwesterly midtropospheric flow, with negligible dust concentration reaching the surface initially. Vertically propagating mountain waves formed during this stage, and differences between downward and upward velocities in these waves could account for a rapid descent of dust to terrain height, where the dust was entrained into the turbulent planetary boundary layer. A deepening outflow (easterly) layer near the surface transported the tracer westward and created a zonal-shear layer that further controlled the tracer advection. Later, the shear layer lifted, leading to a downward hydraulic acceleration along the western slopes, as waves generated in the easterly flow amplified below the shear layer that was just above mountain-crest height. Examination of 10 yr of National Centers for Environmental Prediction–National Center for Atmospheric Research reanalyses suggests that such events are rare.

Corresponding author address: Joshua P. Hacker, University of British Columbia, Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, 6339 Stores Road, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada. jhack@eos.ubc.ca

Abstract

An intense Gobi Desert dust storm in April 1998 loaded the midtroposphere with dust that was transported across the Pacific to western North America. The Mesoscale Compressible Community (MC2) model was used to investigate mechanisms causing downward transport of the midtropospheric dust and to explain the high concentrations of particulate matter of less than 10-μm diameter measured in the coastal urban areas of Washington and southern British Columbia. The MC2 was initialized with a thin, horizontally homogeneous layer of passive tracer centered at 650 hPa for a simulation from 0000 UTC 26 April to 0000 UTC 30 April 1998. Model results were in qualitative agreement with observed spatial and temporal patterns of particulate matter, indicating that it captured the important meteorological processes responsible for the horizontal and vertical transport over the last few days of the dust event. A second simulation was performed without topography to isolate the effects of topography on downward transport.

Results show that the dust was advected well east of the North American coast in southwesterly midtropospheric flow, with negligible dust concentration reaching the surface initially. Vertically propagating mountain waves formed during this stage, and differences between downward and upward velocities in these waves could account for a rapid descent of dust to terrain height, where the dust was entrained into the turbulent planetary boundary layer. A deepening outflow (easterly) layer near the surface transported the tracer westward and created a zonal-shear layer that further controlled the tracer advection. Later, the shear layer lifted, leading to a downward hydraulic acceleration along the western slopes, as waves generated in the easterly flow amplified below the shear layer that was just above mountain-crest height. Examination of 10 yr of National Centers for Environmental Prediction–National Center for Atmospheric Research reanalyses suggests that such events are rare.

Corresponding author address: Joshua P. Hacker, University of British Columbia, Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, 6339 Stores Road, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada. jhack@eos.ubc.ca

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