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Shear-Flow Instability in the Stable Nocturnal Boundary Layer as Observed by Doppler Lidar during CASES-99

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  • 1 Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
  • | 2 NOAA/Environmental Technology Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

This study investigates a shear-flow instability observed in the stably stratified nighttime boundary layer on 6 October 1999 during the Cooperative Atmosphere–Surface Exchange Study (CASES-99) in south-central Kansas. A scanning Doppler lidar captured the spatial structure and evolution of the instability, and high-rate in situ sensors mounted on a nearby 60-m tower provided stability and turbulence data with excellent vertical resolution. Data from these instruments are analyzed and linear stability analysis (LSA) is employed to carefully characterize the wave field, its interaction with the mean flow, and its role in turbulence generation.

The event persisted for about 30 min and was confined within the shear zone between the surface and a low-level jet (LLJ) maximum. Eigenvalues corresponding to the fastest growing mode of the LSA showed good agreement with the basic wave parameters determined from the lidar data. Good qualitative agreement was also obtained between the eigenfunction of the fastest growing mode and the vertical profile of the dominant Fourier mode in wavenumber spectra from spatially resolved lidar data. The height of the measured momentum flux divergence associated with the wave motion was consistent with the LSA prediction of the height of the critical level.

Data show that the instability was triggered by an increase in shear due to a slowing of the flow below the LLJ maximum. This low-level slowing produced a local maximum in the shear profile, which was elevated above the surface. The speed and height of the LLJ remained relatively constant before, during, and after the event. Prior to the event turbulent momentum flux increased as the shear increased and as the gradient Richardson number decreased. With the onset of wave activity, a sudden increase in downward wave-momentum flux was accompanied by a sharp reduction in shear near the critical level.

Corresponding author address: Rob Newsom, NOAA R/ET2, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305. Email: rob.k.newsom@noaa.gov

Abstract

This study investigates a shear-flow instability observed in the stably stratified nighttime boundary layer on 6 October 1999 during the Cooperative Atmosphere–Surface Exchange Study (CASES-99) in south-central Kansas. A scanning Doppler lidar captured the spatial structure and evolution of the instability, and high-rate in situ sensors mounted on a nearby 60-m tower provided stability and turbulence data with excellent vertical resolution. Data from these instruments are analyzed and linear stability analysis (LSA) is employed to carefully characterize the wave field, its interaction with the mean flow, and its role in turbulence generation.

The event persisted for about 30 min and was confined within the shear zone between the surface and a low-level jet (LLJ) maximum. Eigenvalues corresponding to the fastest growing mode of the LSA showed good agreement with the basic wave parameters determined from the lidar data. Good qualitative agreement was also obtained between the eigenfunction of the fastest growing mode and the vertical profile of the dominant Fourier mode in wavenumber spectra from spatially resolved lidar data. The height of the measured momentum flux divergence associated with the wave motion was consistent with the LSA prediction of the height of the critical level.

Data show that the instability was triggered by an increase in shear due to a slowing of the flow below the LLJ maximum. This low-level slowing produced a local maximum in the shear profile, which was elevated above the surface. The speed and height of the LLJ remained relatively constant before, during, and after the event. Prior to the event turbulent momentum flux increased as the shear increased and as the gradient Richardson number decreased. With the onset of wave activity, a sudden increase in downward wave-momentum flux was accompanied by a sharp reduction in shear near the critical level.

Corresponding author address: Rob Newsom, NOAA R/ET2, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305. Email: rob.k.newsom@noaa.gov

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