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Lukas Papritz and Stephan Pfahl


In this study the dynamical mechanisms shaping the evolution of a marine cold air outbreak (CAO) that occurred over the Ross, Amundsen, and Bellingshausen Seas in June 2010 are investigated in an isentropic framework. The drainage of cold air from West Antarctica into the interior Ross Sea, its subsequent export, and the formation of a dome of cold air off the sea ice edge are shown to be intimately linked to a lower-tropospheric cyclone, as well as the cyclonic breaking of an upper-level potential vorticity trough. The dome formation is accompanied by an extreme deepening of the boundary layer, whose top reaches to the height of the low-lying tropopause within the trough, potentially allowing for deep stratosphere–troposphere exchange. A crucial finding of this study is that the decay of the CAO is essentially driven by the circulation associated with a train of mesocyclones and the release of latent heat in their warm sectors. Sensitivity experiments with switched off fluxes of sensible and latent heat reveal that the erosion of the CAO air mass depends critically on the moistening by latent heat fluxes, whereby the synergistic effects of sensible heat fluxes and moist processes amplify the erosion. Within the CAO air mass, the erosion is inhibited by cloud-top radiative cooling and the dissolution of clouds by the entrainment of dryer air. These findings potentially have implications for the representation of CAOs in coarse-resolution climate models.

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Lukas Papritz and Harald Sodemann


Air masses in marine cold air outbreaks (CAOs) at high latitudes undergo a remarkable diabatic transformation because of the uptake of heat and moisture from the ocean surface, and the formation of precipitation. In this study, the fundamental characteristics of the water cycle during an intense and persistent, yet archetypal basinwide CAO from Fram Strait into the Nordic seas are analyzed with the aid of the tracer-enabled mesoscale limited-area numerical weather prediction model COSMO. A water budget of the CAO water cycle is performed based on tagged water tracers that follow moisture picked up by the CAO at various stages of its evolution. The atmospheric dynamical factors and boundary conditions that shape this budget are thereby analyzed. The water tracer analysis reveals a highly local water cycle associated with the CAO. Rapid turnover of water vapor results in an average residence time of precipitating waters of about one day. Approximately one-third of the total moisture taken up by the CAO falls as precipitation by convective overturning in the marine CAO boundary layer. Furthermore, precipitation efficiency increases as the CAO air mass matures and is exposed to warmer waters in the Norwegian Sea. These properties of the CAO water cycle are in strong contrast to situations dominated by long-range moisture transport that occur in the dynamically active regions of extratropical cyclones. It is proposed that CAOs in the confined Nordic seas provide a natural laboratory for studying local characteristics of the water cycle and evaluating its representation in models.

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