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Inversion Breakup in Small Rocky Mountain and Alpine Basins

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  • a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington
  • | b Department of Meteorology and Geophysics, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  • | c Institute for Meteorology and Physics, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria
  • | d Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
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Abstract

Comparisons are made between the postsunrise breakup of temperature inversions in two similar closed basins in very different climate settings, one in the eastern Alps and one in the Rocky Mountains. The small, high-altitude, limestone sinkholes have both experienced extreme temperature minima below −50°C and both develop strong nighttime inversions. On undisturbed clear nights, temperature inversions reach to 120-m heights in both sinkholes but are much stronger in the drier Rocky Mountain basin (24 vs 13 K). Inversion destruction takes place 2.6–3 h after sunrise in these basins and is accomplished primarily by subsidence warming associated with the removal of air from the base of the inversion by the upslope flows that develop over heated sidewalls. A conceptual model of this destruction is presented, emphasizing the asymmetry of the boundary layer development around the basin and the effects of solar shading by the surrounding ridgeline. Differences in inversion strengths and postsunrise heating rates between the two basins are caused by differences in the surface energy budget, with drier soil and a higher sensible heat flux in the Rocky Mountain sinkhole. Inversions in the small basins break up more quickly following sunrise than for previously studied valleys. The pattern of inversion breakup in the non-snow-covered basins is the same as that reported in snow-covered Colorado valleys. The similar breakup patterns in valleys and basins suggest that along-valley wind systems play no role in the breakups, since the small basins have no along-valley wind system.

Corresponding author address: C. David Whiteman, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, P.O. Box 999, Richland, WA 99352. dave.whiteman@pnl.gov

Abstract

Comparisons are made between the postsunrise breakup of temperature inversions in two similar closed basins in very different climate settings, one in the eastern Alps and one in the Rocky Mountains. The small, high-altitude, limestone sinkholes have both experienced extreme temperature minima below −50°C and both develop strong nighttime inversions. On undisturbed clear nights, temperature inversions reach to 120-m heights in both sinkholes but are much stronger in the drier Rocky Mountain basin (24 vs 13 K). Inversion destruction takes place 2.6–3 h after sunrise in these basins and is accomplished primarily by subsidence warming associated with the removal of air from the base of the inversion by the upslope flows that develop over heated sidewalls. A conceptual model of this destruction is presented, emphasizing the asymmetry of the boundary layer development around the basin and the effects of solar shading by the surrounding ridgeline. Differences in inversion strengths and postsunrise heating rates between the two basins are caused by differences in the surface energy budget, with drier soil and a higher sensible heat flux in the Rocky Mountain sinkhole. Inversions in the small basins break up more quickly following sunrise than for previously studied valleys. The pattern of inversion breakup in the non-snow-covered basins is the same as that reported in snow-covered Colorado valleys. The similar breakup patterns in valleys and basins suggest that along-valley wind systems play no role in the breakups, since the small basins have no along-valley wind system.

Corresponding author address: C. David Whiteman, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, P.O. Box 999, Richland, WA 99352. dave.whiteman@pnl.gov

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