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Darko Koračin, John Lewis, William T. Thompson, Clive E. Dorman, and Joost A. Businger

Abstract

A case of fog formation along the California coast is examined with the aid of a one-dimensional, higher-order, turbulence-closure model in conjunction with a set of myriad observations. The event is characterized by persistent along-coast winds in the marine layer, and this pattern justifies a Lagrangian approach to the study. A slab of marine layer air is tracked from the waters near the California–Oregon border to the California bight over a 2-day period. Observations indicate that the marine layer is covered by stratus cloud and comes under the influence of large-scale subsidence and progressively increasing sea surface temperature along the southbound trajectory.

It is hypothesized that cloud-top cooling and large-scale subsidence are paramount to the fog formation process. The one-dimensional model, evaluated with various observations along the Lagrangian path, is used to test the hypothesis. The principal findings of the study are 1) fog forms in response to relatively long preconditioning of the marine layer, 2) radiative cooling at the cloud top is the primary mechanism for cooling and mixing the cloud-topped marine layer, and 3) subsidence acts to strengthen the inversion above the cloud top and forces lowering of the cloud. Although the positive fluxes of sensible and latent heat at the air–sea interface are the factors that govern the onset of fog, sensitivity studies with the one-dimensional model indicate that these sensible and latent heat fluxes are of secondary importance as compared to subsidence and cloud-top cooling. Sensitivity tests also suggest that there is an optimal inversion strength favorable to fog formation and that the moisture conditions above the inversion influence fog evolution.

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