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Modification of the Atmospheric Boundary Layer by a Small Island: Observations from Nauru

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  • 1 Ensis—Forest Biosecurity and Protection, CSIRO, Yarralumla, Australia
  • | 2 Airborne Research Australia, Salisbury South, Australia
  • | 3 The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
  • | 4 NOAA/Environmental Technology Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 5 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington
  • | 6 Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, New York
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Abstract

Nauru, a small island in the tropical Pacific, generates cloud plumes that may grow to over 100-km lengths. This study uses observations to examine the mesoscale disturbance of the marine atmospheric boundary layer by the island that produces these cloud plumes. Observations of the surface layer were made from two ships in the vicinity of Nauru and from instruments on the island. The structure of the atmospheric boundary layer over the island was investigated using aircraft flights. Cloud production over Nauru was examined using remote sensing instruments. The diurnal cycles of surface meteorology and radiation are characterized at a point near the west (downwind) coast of Nauru. The spatial variation of surface meteorology and radiation are also examined using surface and aircraft measurements. During the day, the island surface layer is warmer than the marine surface layer and wind speed is lower than over the ocean. Surface heating forces the growth of a thermal internal boundary layer, within which a plume of cumulus clouds forms. Cloud production begins early in the morning over the ocean near the island’s lee shore; as heating intensifies during the day, cloud production moves upwind over Nauru. These clouds form a plume that may extend over 100 km downwind of Nauru. Aircraft observations showed that a plume of warm, dry air develops over the island that extends 15–20 km downwind before dissipating. Limited observations suggest that the cloud plume may be sustained farther downwind of Nauru by a pair of convective rolls. Suggestions for further investigation of the cloud plume are made.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Stuart Matthews, Ensis—Forest Biosecurity and Protection, CSIRO, Locked Bag 17, Granville, NSW 2142, Australia. Email: stuart.matthews@ensisjv.com

Abstract

Nauru, a small island in the tropical Pacific, generates cloud plumes that may grow to over 100-km lengths. This study uses observations to examine the mesoscale disturbance of the marine atmospheric boundary layer by the island that produces these cloud plumes. Observations of the surface layer were made from two ships in the vicinity of Nauru and from instruments on the island. The structure of the atmospheric boundary layer over the island was investigated using aircraft flights. Cloud production over Nauru was examined using remote sensing instruments. The diurnal cycles of surface meteorology and radiation are characterized at a point near the west (downwind) coast of Nauru. The spatial variation of surface meteorology and radiation are also examined using surface and aircraft measurements. During the day, the island surface layer is warmer than the marine surface layer and wind speed is lower than over the ocean. Surface heating forces the growth of a thermal internal boundary layer, within which a plume of cumulus clouds forms. Cloud production begins early in the morning over the ocean near the island’s lee shore; as heating intensifies during the day, cloud production moves upwind over Nauru. These clouds form a plume that may extend over 100 km downwind of Nauru. Aircraft observations showed that a plume of warm, dry air develops over the island that extends 15–20 km downwind before dissipating. Limited observations suggest that the cloud plume may be sustained farther downwind of Nauru by a pair of convective rolls. Suggestions for further investigation of the cloud plume are made.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Stuart Matthews, Ensis—Forest Biosecurity and Protection, CSIRO, Locked Bag 17, Granville, NSW 2142, Australia. Email: stuart.matthews@ensisjv.com

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