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Robert M. Banta
Larry Mahrt
Dean Vickers
Jielun Sun
Ben B. Balsley
Yelena L. Pichugina
, and
Eric J. Williams


The light-wind, clear-sky, very stable boundary layer (vSBL) is characterized by large values of bulk Richardson number. The light winds produce weak shear, turbulence, and mixing, and resulting strong temperature gradients near the surface. Here five nights with weak-wind, very stable boundary layers during the Cooperative Atmosphere–Surface Exchange Study (CASES-99) are investigated. Although the winds were light and variable near the surface, Doppler lidar profiles of wind speed often indicated persistent profile shapes and magnitudes for periods of an hour or more, sometimes exhibiting jetlike maxima. The near-surface structure of the boundary layer (BL) on the five nights all showed characteristics typical of the vSBL. These characteristics included a shallow traditional BL only 10–30 m deep with weak intermittent turbulence within the strong surface-based radiation inversion. Above this shallow BL sat a layer of very weak turbulence and negligible turbulent mixing. The focus of this paper is on the effects of this quiescent layer just above the shallow BL, and the impacts of this quiescent layer on turbulent transport and numerical modeling. High-frequency time series of temperature T on a 60-m tower showed that 1) the amplitudes of the T fluctuations were dramatically suppressed at levels above 30 m in contrast to the relatively larger intermittent T fluctuations in the shallow BL below, and 2) the temperature at 40- to 60-m height was nearly constant for several hours, indicating that the very cold air near the surface was not being mixed upward to those levels. The presence of this quiescent layer indicates that the atmosphere above the shallow BL was isolated and detached both from the surface and from the shallow BL.

Although some of the nights studied had modestly stronger winds and traveling disturbances (density currents, gravity waves, shear instabilities), these disturbances seemed to pass through the region without having much effect on either the SBL structure or on the atmosphere–surface decoupling. The decoupling suggests that under very stable conditions, the surface-layer lower boundary condition for numerical weather prediction models should act to decouple and isolate the surface from the atmosphere, for example, as a free-slip, thermally insulated layer.

A multiday time series of ozone from an air quality campaign in Tennessee, which exhibited nocturnal behavior typical of polluted air, showed the disappearance of ozone on weak low-level jets (LLJ) nights. This behavior is consistent with the two-stratum structure of the vSBL, and with the nearly complete isolation of the surface and the shallow BL from the rest of the atmosphere above, in contrast to cases with stronger LLJs, where such coupling was stronger.

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