Contextualizing Polarimetric Retrievals of Boundary Layer Height Using State-of-the-Art Boundary Layer Profiling

Jacob T. Carlin aCooperative Institute for Severe and High-Impact Weather Research and Operations, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
bNOAA/OAR National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

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Elizabeth N. Smith bNOAA/OAR National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
cSchool of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma

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Katherine Giannakopoulos cSchool of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma

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Abstract

Knowledge about the depth of the planetary boundary layer (PBL) is crucial for a variety of applications, but direct observations of PBL depth are spatiotemporally sparse. Recent studies have proposed using operational dual-polarization weather radars to observe the evolution of PBL depth by capitalizing on unique differential reflectivity (ZDR) signatures of Bragg scatter at the top of the PBL. While this approach appears promising and cost-effective, uncertainties remain about the representativeness of these estimates and how its efficacy may vary by geography and climatology. To address these outstanding uncertainties, this study compares collocated observations collected from two WSR-88D radars and two state-of-the-art mobile boundary layer profiling systems and evaluates the proposed methodology over the full diurnal cycle. Results indicate good overall correspondence between the profiling- and radar-based PBL depth estimates, with an abrupt divergence during the early evening transition and large discrepancies overnight. Relatively large root-mean-square-deviations (RMSDs) coupled with small biases match expectations when comparing spatially averaged data with point observations during PBL growth, which capture frequent fluctuations. A qualitative examination of the radar data reveals signatures of elevated residual layers, clouds, and ground clutter, all of which can obfuscate the desired surface-based PBL signal but which may have their own utility. The prominence of the Bragg scatter signal is found to be correlated with the observed moisture gradient at the top of the PBL, reflecting climatological variability that should be considered. These findings motivate further work to improve the automated detection of Bragg scatter layers from polarimetric radar data.

Significance Statement

Knowledge of the height of the planetary boundary layer matters for weather forecasting, air quality, and renewable energy production. Currently, boundary layer height measurements are taken at select locations twice a day. However, a method to use the existing national network of polarimetric weather radars for this purpose has been proposed. This work evaluates this method against specialized boundary layer measurements. The results show that the method is generally reliable during the daytime and could be used for a variety of applications including climatologies and model evaluation. There remain a number of situational caveats, including residual turbulence, clouds/precipitation, ground clutter, and certain meteorological environments, that may require modification of the approach and need to be considered in future work.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Jacob T. Carlin, jacob.carlin@noaa.gov

Abstract

Knowledge about the depth of the planetary boundary layer (PBL) is crucial for a variety of applications, but direct observations of PBL depth are spatiotemporally sparse. Recent studies have proposed using operational dual-polarization weather radars to observe the evolution of PBL depth by capitalizing on unique differential reflectivity (ZDR) signatures of Bragg scatter at the top of the PBL. While this approach appears promising and cost-effective, uncertainties remain about the representativeness of these estimates and how its efficacy may vary by geography and climatology. To address these outstanding uncertainties, this study compares collocated observations collected from two WSR-88D radars and two state-of-the-art mobile boundary layer profiling systems and evaluates the proposed methodology over the full diurnal cycle. Results indicate good overall correspondence between the profiling- and radar-based PBL depth estimates, with an abrupt divergence during the early evening transition and large discrepancies overnight. Relatively large root-mean-square-deviations (RMSDs) coupled with small biases match expectations when comparing spatially averaged data with point observations during PBL growth, which capture frequent fluctuations. A qualitative examination of the radar data reveals signatures of elevated residual layers, clouds, and ground clutter, all of which can obfuscate the desired surface-based PBL signal but which may have their own utility. The prominence of the Bragg scatter signal is found to be correlated with the observed moisture gradient at the top of the PBL, reflecting climatological variability that should be considered. These findings motivate further work to improve the automated detection of Bragg scatter layers from polarimetric radar data.

Significance Statement

Knowledge of the height of the planetary boundary layer matters for weather forecasting, air quality, and renewable energy production. Currently, boundary layer height measurements are taken at select locations twice a day. However, a method to use the existing national network of polarimetric weather radars for this purpose has been proposed. This work evaluates this method against specialized boundary layer measurements. The results show that the method is generally reliable during the daytime and could be used for a variety of applications including climatologies and model evaluation. There remain a number of situational caveats, including residual turbulence, clouds/precipitation, ground clutter, and certain meteorological environments, that may require modification of the approach and need to be considered in future work.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Jacob T. Carlin, jacob.carlin@noaa.gov
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