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Strong Down-Valley Low-Level Jets over the Atacama Desert: Observational Characterization

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  • 1 Department of Geophysics, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile
  • | 2 Centro Nacional del Medio Ambiente, Santiago, Chile
  • | 3 Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, and Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
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Abstract

The near-surface wind and temperature regime at three points in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile is described using two years of multilevel measurements from 80-m towers located in an altitude range between 2100 and 2700 m MSL. The data reveal the frequent development of strong nocturnal drainage flows at all sites. Down-valley, nose-shaped wind speed profiles are observed, with maximum values occurring at heights between 20 and 60 m AGL. The flow intensity shows considerable interdaily variability and a seasonal modulation of maximum speeds, which in the cold season can attain hourly average values of more than 20 m s−1. Turbulent mixing appears to be important over the full tower layer, affecting the curvature of the nighttime temperature profile and possibly explaining the observed increase of surface temperatures in the down-valley direction. Nocturnal valley winds and temperatures are weakly controlled by upper-air conditions observed at the nearest aerological station. Estimates of terms in the momentum budget for the development and quasi-stationary phases of the down-valley flows suggest that the pressure gradient force due to the near-surface cooling along the sloping valley axes plays an important role in these drainage flows. A scale for the jet nose height of equilibrium turbulent down-slope jets is proposed that is based on surface friction velocity and surface inversion intensity. At one of the sites, this scale explains about 70% of the case-to-case observed variance of jet nose heights. Further modeling and observations are needed, however, to define better the dynamics, extent, and turbulence structure of this flow system, which has significant wind-energy, climatic, and environmental implications.

Corresponding author address: Ricardo C. Muñoz, Dept. of Geophysics, University of Chile, Av. Blanco Encalada 2002, Santiago, Chile. E-mail: rmunoz@dgf.uchile.cl

Abstract

The near-surface wind and temperature regime at three points in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile is described using two years of multilevel measurements from 80-m towers located in an altitude range between 2100 and 2700 m MSL. The data reveal the frequent development of strong nocturnal drainage flows at all sites. Down-valley, nose-shaped wind speed profiles are observed, with maximum values occurring at heights between 20 and 60 m AGL. The flow intensity shows considerable interdaily variability and a seasonal modulation of maximum speeds, which in the cold season can attain hourly average values of more than 20 m s−1. Turbulent mixing appears to be important over the full tower layer, affecting the curvature of the nighttime temperature profile and possibly explaining the observed increase of surface temperatures in the down-valley direction. Nocturnal valley winds and temperatures are weakly controlled by upper-air conditions observed at the nearest aerological station. Estimates of terms in the momentum budget for the development and quasi-stationary phases of the down-valley flows suggest that the pressure gradient force due to the near-surface cooling along the sloping valley axes plays an important role in these drainage flows. A scale for the jet nose height of equilibrium turbulent down-slope jets is proposed that is based on surface friction velocity and surface inversion intensity. At one of the sites, this scale explains about 70% of the case-to-case observed variance of jet nose heights. Further modeling and observations are needed, however, to define better the dynamics, extent, and turbulence structure of this flow system, which has significant wind-energy, climatic, and environmental implications.

Corresponding author address: Ricardo C. Muñoz, Dept. of Geophysics, University of Chile, Av. Blanco Encalada 2002, Santiago, Chile. E-mail: rmunoz@dgf.uchile.cl
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