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Andrew Wiebe, Andrew Sturman, and Hamish McGowan

Abstract

The world’s tropical coral reefs are at risk of severe bleaching episodes and species decline in response to global climate variability. The ecological and economic value of reef ecosystems is enormous, yet very little is known of the physical interactions that take place at the coral–ocean–atmosphere interfaces. This paper introduces and validates a novel technique for the acquisition of surface energy balance measurements over Heron Reef, part of the Capricorn Bunker Group of the southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Measurements of surface energy and radiation exchanges were made using a Campbell Scientific eddy covariance (EC) measurement system mounted on a floating pontoon anchored to the reef flat. A Nortek Vector velocimeter was positioned next to the pontoon to record wave motion. Wavelet analysis techniques were used to decompose the turbulent exchange of sensible heat measured by the EC unit and to compare vertical velocity measurements with wave-induced motion recorded by the velocimeter. The results indicate that although the EC system and the velocimeter share intermittent periods of high common power in their respective wavelet variance spectra, these regions are not coherent and differ in strength by more than an order of magnitude. It was concluded that over a standard averaging period of 30 min the wave-induced motion of the pontoon would not significantly interfere with the acquisition and calculation of turbulent fluxes of sensible and latent heat, thereby confirming the robustness of this method of obtaining surface energy balance measurements over coral reefs.

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Alison Theobald, Hamish McGowan, Johanna Speirs, and Nik Callow

Abstract

Precipitation falling in the Snowy Mountains region of southeastern Australia provides fuel for hydroelectric power generation and environmental flows along major river systems, as well as critical water resources for agricultural irrigation. A synoptic climatology of daily precipitation that triggers a quantifiable increase in streamflow in the headwater catchments of the Snowy Mountains region is presented for the period 1958–2012. Here, previous synoptic-meteorological studies of the region are extended by using a longer-term, year-round precipitation and reanalysis dataset combined with a novel, automated synoptic-classification technique. A three-dimensional representation of synoptic circulation is developed by effectively combining meteorological variables through the depth of the troposphere. Eleven distinct synoptic types are identified, describing key circulation features and moisture pathways that deliver precipitation to the Snowy Mountains. Synoptic types with the highest precipitation totals are commonly associated with moisture pathways originating from the northeast and northwest of Australia. These systems generate the greatest precipitation totals across the westerly and high-elevation areas of the Snowy Mountains, but precipitation is reduced in the eastern-elevation areas in the lee of the mountain ranges. In eastern regions, synoptic types with onshore transport of humid air from the Tasman Sea are the major source of precipitation. Strong seasonality in synoptic types is evident, with frontal and cutoff-low types dominating in winter and inland heat troughs prevailing in summer. Interaction between tropical and extratropical systems is evident in all seasons.

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Mellissa C. MacKellar, Hamish A. McGowan, and Stuart R. Phinn

Abstract

The thermal environment of a coral reef is moderated by complex interactions of air–sea heat and moisture fluxes, local to synoptic-scale weather and reef hydrodynamics. Measurements of air–sea energy fluxes over coral reefs are essential to understanding the reef–atmosphere processes that underpin coral reef environmental conditions such as water temperature, cloud, precipitation, and local winds (such as during coral bleaching events). Such measurements over coral reefs have been rare, however, and the spatial heterogeneity of surface–atmosphere energy exchanges due to the different geomorphic and biological zones on coral reefs has not been captured. Accordingly, the heterogeneity of coral reefs with regard to substrate, benthic communities, and hydrodynamic processes has not been considered in the characterization of the surface radiation budget and energy balance of coral reefs. Here, the first concurrent in situ eddy covariance measurements of the surface energy balance and radiation transfers over different geomorphic zones of a coral reef are presented. Results showed differences in radiation transfers and sensible and latent heat fluxes over the reef, with higher Bowen ratios over the shallow reef flat zone. The energy flux divergence between sites increased with wind speed and during unstable, southeasterly trade winds with the net flux of heat being positive and negative over different geomorphic zones. The surface drag coefficient at measurement height ranged from 1 × 10−3 to 2.5 × 10−3, with no significant difference between sites. Results confirm that spatial variation in radiation and air–reef–water surface heat and moisture fluxes occurs across a lagoonal platform reef in response to local meteorological conditions, hydrodynamics, and benthic–substrate cover.

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Nicholas McCarthy, Hamish McGowan, Adrien Guyot, and Andrew Dowdy

Abstract

The process of pyroconvection occurs when fire-released heat, moisture, and/or aerosols induce or augment convection in the atmosphere. Prediction of pyroconvection presents a set of complex problems for meteorologists and wildfire managers. In particular, the turbulent characteristics of a pyroconvective plume exert bidirectional feedback on fire behavior, often with resulting severe impacts on life and property. Here, we present the motivation, field strategy, and initial results from the Bushfire Convective Plume Experiment, which through the use of mobile radar aims to quantify the kinematics of pyroconvection and its role in fire behavior. The case studies presented include world-first observations from two wildfires and one prescribed burn using the University of Queensland’s portable, dual-polarized X-band Doppler radar (UQ-XPOL). The initial analyses of reflectivity, Doppler winds, polarimetric variables, and spectrum width data provide insights into these relatively unexplored datasets within the context of pyroconvection. Weather radar data are supported by mesonet observations, time-lapse photography, airborne multispectral imaging, and spot-fire mapping. The ability to combine ground-validated fire intensity and progression at an hourly scale with quantitative data documenting the evolution of the convective plume kinematics at the scale of hundreds of meters represents a new capability for advancing our understanding of wildfires. The results demonstrate the suitability of portable, dual-polarized X-band Doppler radar to investigate pyroconvection and associated plume dynamics.

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Johanna C. Speirs, Daniel F. Steinhoff, Hamish A. McGowan, David H. Bromwich, and Andrew J. Monaghan

Abstract

Foehn winds resulting from topographic modification of airflow in the lee of mountain barriers are frequently experienced in the McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDVs) of Antarctica. Strong foehn winds in the MDVs cause dramatic warming at onset and have significant effects on landscape forming processes; however, no detailed scientific investigation of foehn in the MDVs has been conducted. As a result, they are often misinterpreted as adiabatically warmed katabatic winds draining from the polar plateau. Herein observations from surface weather stations and numerical model output from the Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System (AMPS) during foehn events in the MDVs are presented. Results show that foehn winds in the MDVs are caused by topographic modification of south-southwesterly airflow, which is channeled into the valleys from higher levels. Modeling of a winter foehn event identifies mountain wave activity similar to that associated with midlatitude foehn winds. These events are found to be caused by strong pressure gradients over the mountain ranges of the MDVs related to synoptic-scale cyclones positioned off the coast of Marie Byrd Land. Analysis of meteorological records for 2006 and 2007 finds an increase of 10% in the frequency of foehn events in 2007 compared to 2006, which corresponds to stronger pressure gradients in the Ross Sea region. It is postulated that the intra- and interannual frequency and intensity of foehn events in the MDVs may therefore vary in response to the position and frequency of cyclones in the Ross Sea region.

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Joshua S. Soderholm, Hamish A. McGowan, Harald Richter, Kevin Walsh, Tony Wedd, and Tammy M. Weckwerth

Abstract

Boundary layer evolution in response to diurnal forcing is manifested at the mesobeta and smaller scales of the atmosphere. Because this variability resides on subsynoptic scales, the potential influence upon convective storm environments is often not captured in coarse observational and modeling datasets, particularly for complex physical settings such as coastal regions. A detailed observational analysis of diurnally forced preconditioning for convective storm environments of South East Queensland, Australia (SEQ), during the Coastal Convective Interactions Experiment (2013–15) is presented. The observations used include surface-based measurements, aerological soundings, and dual-polarization Doppler radar. The sea-breeze circulation was found to be the dominant influence; however, profile modification by the coastward advection of the continental boundary layer was found to be an essential mechanism for favorable preconditioning of deep convection. This includes 1) enhanced moisture in the city of Brisbane, potentiality due to an urban heat island–enhanced land–sea thermal contrast, 2) significant afternoon warming and moistening above the sea breeze resulting from the advection of the inland convective boundary layer coastward under prevailing westerly flow coupled with the sea-breeze return flow, and 3) substantial variations in near-surface moisture likely associated with topography and land use. For the 27 November 2014 Brisbane hailstorm, which caused damages exceeding $1.5 billion Australian dollars (AUD), the three introduced diurnal preconditioning processes are shown to favor a mesoscale convective environment supportive of large hailstone growth. The hybrid high-precipitation supercell storm mode noted for this event and previous similar events in SEQ is hypothesized to be more sensitive to variations in near-surface and boundary layer instability in contrast to contemporary supercell storms.

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Jordan P. Brook, Alain Protat, Joshua Soderholm, Jacob T. Carlin, Hamish McGowan, and Robert A. Warren

Abstract

A spatial mismatch between radar-based hail swaths and surface hail reports is commonly noted in meteorological literature. The discrepancy is partly due to hailstone advection and melting between detection aloft and observation at the ground. This study aims to mitigate this problem by introducing a model named HailTrack, which estimates hailfall at the surface using radar observations. The model operates by detecting, tracking, and collating hailstone trajectories using dual-polarized, dual-Doppler radar retrievals. Notable improvements in hailfall forecasts were observed through the use of HailTrack, and initializing the model with radar retrievals of hail differential reflectivity H DR was found to produce the most accurate hailfall estimates. The analysis of a case study in Brisbane, Australia, demonstrated that trajectory modeling significantly improved the correlation between hail swaths and hail-related insurance losses, increasing Heidke skill scores from 0.48 to 0.58. The accumulated kinetic energy of hailstone impacts also showed some skill in identifying areas that were exposed to particularly severe hailfall. Other unique impact estimates are presented, such as hailstone advection information and hailstone impact angle statistics. The potential to run the model in real time and produce short-term (10–15 min) nowcasts is also introduced. Model applications include improving radar-based hail climatologies, validating hail detection techniques and insurance claims data, and providing real-time hail impact maps to improve public awareness of hail risk.

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Joshua Soderholm, Hamish McGowan, Harald Richter, Kevin Walsh, Tammy Weckwerth, and Matthew Coleman

Abstract

Thunderstorm-affected communities develop an awareness of “hotspot” regions that historically experience more frequent or intense storm activity across many years. A scientifically based understanding of this localized variability has significant implications for both the public and industry; however, a lack of sufficiently long and robust observational datasets has limited prior research at the mesogamma spatial scale (2–20 km). This is particularly true for coastal environments, where hotspot activity has been documented in very few locales (e.g., Florida, southern Appalachian coastal plains, and the Iberian Peninsula), despite 45% of the global population living within 150 km of the coast. The Coastal Convective Interactions Experiment (CCIE) focuses on quantifying hailstorm hotspot activity for the coastal South East Queensland (SEQ) region of Australia and understanding the meteorological conditions that result in the spatial clustering of hailstorm activity.

An automated thunderstorm identification and tracking technique applied to 18 years of radar data identifies not only the hailstorm hotpots well known to experienced local forecasters but an apparent link between localized maxima and the presence of sea-breeze activity. These climatological findings provided the motivation and guidance for a two-season field campaign to investigate the role of the sea breeze in thunderstorm development. Details of the experiment strategy and equipment specifications are presented alongside preliminary results. Significant complexities were observed within sea-breeze and thunderstorms circulations, limiting the application of standard concepts for idealized gravity current interactions. Furthermore, a multi-instrument case study of a sea-breeze–thunderstorm cold pool interaction identifies the comparatively low sea-breeze buoyancy as the primary contributor toward inhibiting new convective initiation, despite the vorticity balance argument favoring deeper updrafts.

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