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Maike Ahlgrimm
David A. Randall


The mixed-layer approach to modeling the planetary boundary layer (PBL) is particularly well suited to inversion-topped PBLs, such as the stratocumulus-topped boundary layer found off the west coast of America in the subtropical Pacific Ocean at northern and southern latitudes. However, a strong temperature inversion near 850 hPa (the trade wind inversion) is not confined to the stratocumulus regimes, but has been observed over most parts of the subtropical–tropical Pacific Ocean. In this paper, the authors test the ability of a simple bulk boundary layer model (BBLM) to diagnose entrainment velocity, cumulus mass flux, and surface latent heat flux from monthly mean reanalysis data. The PBL depth is estimated from Geoscience Laser Altimeter System data. The model is based on the conservation equations for mass, total water mixing ratio, and moist static energy.

The BBLM diagnoses entrainment velocities between 1 and 8 mm s−1 in the stratocumulus and trade wind regions, with increasing rates toward the west. Large cumulus mass fluxes (1.3–2 cm s−1) mark the ITCZ and South Pacific convergence zone. Unreasonably large surface latent heat fluxes are diagnosed in regions where the vertical resolution of both model and input data are insufficient to represent the sharp gradients of moist conservable variables and winds across the PBL top. The results demonstrate that the potential exists to extract useful information about the large-scale structure of PBL physical processes by combining available observations with simple models.

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