During the summer east Asian monsoon transition period in 1979, a meteorological field experiment entitled the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau Meteorological Experiment (QXPMEX-79) was conducted over the entire Tibetan Plateau. Data collected on and around the plateau during this period, in conjunction with a medium spectral-resolution infrared radiative transfer model, are used to gain an understanding of how elevation and surface biophysical factors, which are highly variable over the large-scale plateau domain, regulate the spatial distribution of clear-sky infrared cooling during the transition phase of the summer monsoon.

The spatial distribution of longwave cooling over the plateau is significantly influenced by variations in biophysical composition, topography, and elevation, the surface thermal diurnal cycle, and various climatological factors. An important factor is soil moisture. Bulk clear-sky longwave cooling rates are larger in the southeast sector of the plateau than in the north. This is because rainfall is greatest in the southeast, whereas the north is highly desertified and relative longwave radiative heating by the surface is greatest. Another important phenomenon is that the locale of a large-scale east-west-aligned spatial gradient in radiative cooling propagates northward with time. During the premonsoon period (May–June), the location of the strong spatial gradient is found in the southeastern margin of the plateau. Due to changes in surface and atmospheric conditions after the summer monsoon commences, the high gradient sector is shifted to the central Qinghai region. Furthermore, an overall decrease in longwave cooling takes place in the lower atmosphere immediately prior to the arrival of the active monsoon.

The magnitude of longwave cooling is significantly affected by skin-temperature boundary conditions at plateau altitudes. If skin-temperature discontinuities across the surface-atmosphere interface are neglected, bulk cooling rates will be in error up to 1°C day−1. The high surface skin temperatures, particularly in the afternoon, lead to significant relative longwave radiative heating in the lower atmosphere for which the impact in terms of vertical depth is shown to increase rather dramatically as a function of the elevation of the terrain. The significance of these results in the context of previous heat budget studies of the plateau suggest that the radiative heating term (QR) used by previous investigators contains far too much longwave cooling, and thus in a classic formulation of the Yanai Q1 balance equation, would lead to underestimation of sensible heating into the atmospheric column.

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