A Physical Mechanism for the Asymmetry in Top-Down and Bottom-Up Diffusion

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  • 1 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO 80307
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Abstract

Recent large-eddy simulations of the vertical diffusion of a passive, conservative scalar through the convective boundary layer (CBL) show strikingly different eddy diffusivity profiles in the “top-down” and “bottom-up” cases. These results indicate that for a given turbulent velocity field and associated scalar flux, the mean change in scalar mixing ratio across the CBL is several times larger if the flux originates at the top of the boundary layer (i.e., in top-down diffusion) rather than at the bottom. The large-eddy simulation (LES) data show that this asymmetry is due to a breakdown of the eddy-diffusion concept.

A simple updraft-downdraft model of the CBL reveals a physical mechanism that could cause this unexpected behavior. The large, positive skewness of the convectively driven vertical velocity gives an appreciably higher probability of downdrafts than updrafts; this excess probability of downdrafts, interacting with the time changes of the mean mixing ratio caused by the nonstationarity of the bottom-up and top-down diffusion processes, decreases the equilibrium value of mean mixing-ratio jump across the mixed layer in the bottom-up case and increases it in the top-down case. The resulting diffusion asymmetry agrees qualitatively with that found through LES.

Abstract

Recent large-eddy simulations of the vertical diffusion of a passive, conservative scalar through the convective boundary layer (CBL) show strikingly different eddy diffusivity profiles in the “top-down” and “bottom-up” cases. These results indicate that for a given turbulent velocity field and associated scalar flux, the mean change in scalar mixing ratio across the CBL is several times larger if the flux originates at the top of the boundary layer (i.e., in top-down diffusion) rather than at the bottom. The large-eddy simulation (LES) data show that this asymmetry is due to a breakdown of the eddy-diffusion concept.

A simple updraft-downdraft model of the CBL reveals a physical mechanism that could cause this unexpected behavior. The large, positive skewness of the convectively driven vertical velocity gives an appreciably higher probability of downdrafts than updrafts; this excess probability of downdrafts, interacting with the time changes of the mean mixing ratio caused by the nonstationarity of the bottom-up and top-down diffusion processes, decreases the equilibrium value of mean mixing-ratio jump across the mixed layer in the bottom-up case and increases it in the top-down case. The resulting diffusion asymmetry agrees qualitatively with that found through LES.

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