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Effects of Sea Spray on Tropical Cyclones Simulated under Idealized Conditions

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  • 1 Department of Meteorology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
  • | 2 National Centers for Environmental Prediction, Camp Springs, Maryland
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Abstract

Under high-wind conditions, breaking waves and whitecaps eject large numbers of sea spray droplets into the atmosphere. The spray droplets originate with the same temperature and salinity as the ocean surface and thus increase the effective surface area of the ocean in contact with the atmosphere. As a result, the spray alters the total sensible and latent heat fluxes in the near-surface layer. The spray drops in the near-surface layer also result in horizontal and vertical spray-drag effects. The mass of the spray introduces an additional drag in the vertical momentum equation and tends to stabilize the lower boundary layer (BL).

An initially axisymmetric control hurricane was created from the output of a real-data simulation of Hurricane Floyd (1999) using the nonhydrostatic fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University–National Center for Atmospheric Research Mesoscale Model (MM5, version 3.4). The subsequent simulations, however, are not axisymmetric because the mass, wind, and spray fields are allowed to develop asymmetries. While such a design does not result in an axisymmetric simulation, the mass, wind, and spray fields develop more realistic structures than in an axisymmetric simulation. Simulations of the hurricane were conducted using a version of the Fairall et al. (1994) sea spray parameterization, which includes horizontal and vertical spray-drag effects. The simulations were run using varying spray-source function intensities and with and without horizontal and vertical spray-drag effects. At present, the relationship of spray production to surface wind speed is poorly known for hurricane-force wind regimes.

Results indicate that spray modifies the hurricane structure in important but complex ways. Spray moistens the near-surface layer through increased evaporation. The effect of spray on the near-surface temperature profile depends on the amount of spray and its location in the hurricane. For moderate spray amounts, the near-surface layer warms within the high-wind region of the hurricane and cools at larger radii. For larger spray amounts, the near-surface layer warms relative to the moderate spray case.

The moderate spray simulations (both with and without drag effects) have little net effect on the hurricane intensity. However, in the heavier spray runs, the total sensible heat flux is enhanced by 200 W m−2, while the total latent heat flux is enhanced by over 150 W m−2 in the high-wind region of the storm. Horizontal spray drag decreases wind speeds between 1 and 2 m s−1, and vertical spray drag increases the stability of the lower BL. In these heavy spray runs, the effect of the enhanced spray sensible and latent heat fluxes dominates the negative spray-drag effects, and as a result, the modeled storm intensity is upward of 10 mb stronger than the control run by the end of the simulation time. This study shows that spray has the capability of significantly affecting hurricane structure, but to do so, the amount of spray ejected into the BL of the hurricane would need to lie near the upper end of the currently hypothesized spray-source functions.

Corresponding author address: Jeffrey S. Gall, The Pennsylvania State University, 503 Walker Building, University Park, PA 16802. Email: gall@meteo.psu.edu

Abstract

Under high-wind conditions, breaking waves and whitecaps eject large numbers of sea spray droplets into the atmosphere. The spray droplets originate with the same temperature and salinity as the ocean surface and thus increase the effective surface area of the ocean in contact with the atmosphere. As a result, the spray alters the total sensible and latent heat fluxes in the near-surface layer. The spray drops in the near-surface layer also result in horizontal and vertical spray-drag effects. The mass of the spray introduces an additional drag in the vertical momentum equation and tends to stabilize the lower boundary layer (BL).

An initially axisymmetric control hurricane was created from the output of a real-data simulation of Hurricane Floyd (1999) using the nonhydrostatic fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University–National Center for Atmospheric Research Mesoscale Model (MM5, version 3.4). The subsequent simulations, however, are not axisymmetric because the mass, wind, and spray fields are allowed to develop asymmetries. While such a design does not result in an axisymmetric simulation, the mass, wind, and spray fields develop more realistic structures than in an axisymmetric simulation. Simulations of the hurricane were conducted using a version of the Fairall et al. (1994) sea spray parameterization, which includes horizontal and vertical spray-drag effects. The simulations were run using varying spray-source function intensities and with and without horizontal and vertical spray-drag effects. At present, the relationship of spray production to surface wind speed is poorly known for hurricane-force wind regimes.

Results indicate that spray modifies the hurricane structure in important but complex ways. Spray moistens the near-surface layer through increased evaporation. The effect of spray on the near-surface temperature profile depends on the amount of spray and its location in the hurricane. For moderate spray amounts, the near-surface layer warms within the high-wind region of the hurricane and cools at larger radii. For larger spray amounts, the near-surface layer warms relative to the moderate spray case.

The moderate spray simulations (both with and without drag effects) have little net effect on the hurricane intensity. However, in the heavier spray runs, the total sensible heat flux is enhanced by 200 W m−2, while the total latent heat flux is enhanced by over 150 W m−2 in the high-wind region of the storm. Horizontal spray drag decreases wind speeds between 1 and 2 m s−1, and vertical spray drag increases the stability of the lower BL. In these heavy spray runs, the effect of the enhanced spray sensible and latent heat fluxes dominates the negative spray-drag effects, and as a result, the modeled storm intensity is upward of 10 mb stronger than the control run by the end of the simulation time. This study shows that spray has the capability of significantly affecting hurricane structure, but to do so, the amount of spray ejected into the BL of the hurricane would need to lie near the upper end of the currently hypothesized spray-source functions.

Corresponding author address: Jeffrey S. Gall, The Pennsylvania State University, 503 Walker Building, University Park, PA 16802. Email: gall@meteo.psu.edu

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