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Austin P. Hope
Israel Lopez-Coto
Kris Hajny
Jay M. Tomlin
Robert Kaeser
Brian Stirm
Anna Karion
, and
Paul B. Shepson


We investigated the ability of three planetary boundary layer (PBL) schemes in the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model to simulate boundary layer turbulence in the “gray zone” (i.e., resolutions from 100 m to 1 km). The three schemes chosen are the well-established MYNN PBL scheme and the two newest PBL schemes added to WRF: the three-dimensional scale-adaptive turbulent kinetic energy scheme (SMS-3DTKE) and the E–ε parameterization scheme (EEPS). The SMS-3DTKE scheme is designed to be scale aware and avoid the double counting of TKE in simulations within the gray zone. We evaluated their performance using aircraft measurements obtained during three research flights immediately downwind of Manhattan, New York City, New York. The MYNN PBL scheme simulates TKE best, despite not being scale aware and slightly underestimating TKE from observations, whereas the SMS-3DTKE scheme appears to be overly scale aware for the three flights examined, in particular, when combined with the MM5 surface layer scheme. The EEPS scheme significantly underestimates TKE, mostly in the elevated layers of the boundary layer. In addition, we examined the impact of flow over tall buildings on observed TKE and found that only the windiest day showed a significant increase in TKE directly downwind of Manhattan. This impact was not reproduced by any of the model configurations, regardless of the land-use data selected, although the better resolved National Land Cover Database (NLCD) land use led to a slight improvement of the spatial distribution of TKE, implying that more explicit representation of the impact of tall buildings may be needed to fully capture their impact on boundary layer turbulence.

Significance Statement

Because the majority of the world’s population lives in cities, it is important to accurately simulate the atmosphere above and around these cities including the turbulence caused by tall buildings. This turbulence can significantly impact the mixing and dilution of air pollutants and other toxins in highly populated urban environments. The scale of cities often falls into what is known as the “gray zone” for turbulence modeling, which has been analyzed theoretically before but rarely in varied real-world conditions. Our analysis around New York City, New York, suggests that model turbulence schemes can match observations relatively well even at gray zone scales, although newer schemes require refinement, and all schemes tend to underestimate turbulence downwind of tall buildings.

Open access