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  • View in gallery

    Estimations of boundary layer height against time for different nights. The line represents the Agoufou average boundary layer height calculated as a fit to the data points available. These data are used to normalize heights of profile measurements so they may be used in the composite of Fig. 2.

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    Time against normalized height plots of (a) potential temperature, (b) mixing ratio, (c) wind direction, and (d) wind speed composed from 10 nights’ worth of tethered balloon and kite profiles (9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, and 21 Aug 2005). The potential temperature and wind direction plots represent an interpolation of differences from initial values of parameters for all of the results collected from 10 nights. The mixing ratio and wind speed plots show an interpolation of values from all of the results collected from 9 nights.

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    Selected profiles from the night of 11 Aug 2005 at 5 times during the night: (a) potential temperature, (b) wind speed, (c) Richardson number, (d) mixing ratio, and (e) wind direction. Times marked in the legend of (a). In (c), a line marks the transition at a value of 0.25 < Ri < 1 between stable and turbulent flow.

  • View in gallery

    11 Aug 2005: Comparisons between the UM forecast (solid black line), ECMWF analysis (dashed line) and observations (gray line). (a) 1822 UTC observations against UM and ECMWF at 1800 UTC, (b) 0008 UTC observations against UM and ECMWF at 0000 UTC, and (c) 0405 UTC observations against UM at 0400 UTC and ECMWF at 0600 UTC.

  • View in gallery

    As in Fig. 3, but from the night of 18 Aug 2005 at 5 times during the night.

  • View in gallery

    18 August 2005: Comparisons between the UM forecast (solid black line), ECMWF analysis (dashed line), and observations (gray line). (a) 1908 UTC observations against UM at 1900 UTC, ECMWF at 1800 UTC, (b) 0002 UTC observations against UM and ECMWF at 0000 UTC, and (c) 0554 UTC observations against UM and ECMWF at 0600 UTC.

  • View in gallery

    Vorticity and winds from the ECMWF operational analysis at 925 hPa at 0000 UTC 19 Aug 2005. Positive vorticity is shown in black, negative in dashed light gray, while contours are every 10−5 s−1. The field site is marked with a cross. A trough with two centers, north and south, can be seen to the east of Mauritania, west of Mali/Burkina Faso.

  • View in gallery

    Mean nighttime moisture flux (V) comparisons in kg m−2 s−1, from the evenings of (a) 11 and (b) 18 Aug 2005: observations in gray and UM in black.

  • View in gallery

    Composite moisture flux (V) from all radiosonde profiles from Niamey for August 2006. Soundings at 1200 UTC are represented by the thin gray line, bold gray line for 1800 UTC, thin black line for 0000 UTC, and bold black line for 0600 UTC. Shading represents +/− standard deviation.

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Observations of the Nocturnal Boundary Layer Associated with the West African Monsoon

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  • 1 Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, California
  • | 2 School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom
  • | 3 Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, United Kingdom
  • | 4 CESBIO, Toulouse, France
  • | 5 CNRM-GAME (CNRS and Météo-France), Toulouse, France
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Abstract

A set of nighttime tethered balloon and kite measurements from the central Sahel (15.2°N, 1.3°W) in August 2005 were acquired and analyzed. A composite of all the nights’ data was produced using boundary layer height to normalize measured altitudes. The observations showed some typical characteristics of nocturnal boundary layer development, notably a strong inversion after sunset and the formation of a low-level nocturnal jet later in the night. On most nights, the sampled jet did not change direction significantly during the night.

The boundary layer thermodynamic structure displayed some variations from one night to the next. This was investigated using two contrasting case studies from the period. In one of these case studies (18 August 2005), the low-level wind direction changed significantly during the night. This change was captured well by two large-scale models, suggesting that the large-scale dynamics had a significant impact on boundary layer winds on this night. For both case studies, the models tended to underestimate near-surface wind speeds during the night, which is a feature that may lead to an underestimation of moisture flux northward by models.

* Current affiliation: Met Office, Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom

Corresponding author address: Caroline Bain, Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697. Email: caroline.bain@metoffice.gov.uk

Abstract

A set of nighttime tethered balloon and kite measurements from the central Sahel (15.2°N, 1.3°W) in August 2005 were acquired and analyzed. A composite of all the nights’ data was produced using boundary layer height to normalize measured altitudes. The observations showed some typical characteristics of nocturnal boundary layer development, notably a strong inversion after sunset and the formation of a low-level nocturnal jet later in the night. On most nights, the sampled jet did not change direction significantly during the night.

The boundary layer thermodynamic structure displayed some variations from one night to the next. This was investigated using two contrasting case studies from the period. In one of these case studies (18 August 2005), the low-level wind direction changed significantly during the night. This change was captured well by two large-scale models, suggesting that the large-scale dynamics had a significant impact on boundary layer winds on this night. For both case studies, the models tended to underestimate near-surface wind speeds during the night, which is a feature that may lead to an underestimation of moisture flux northward by models.

* Current affiliation: Met Office, Exeter, Devon, United Kingdom

Corresponding author address: Caroline Bain, Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697. Email: caroline.bain@metoffice.gov.uk

1. Introduction

The West African monsoon is caused by the northward shift in the intertropical front during Northern Hemisphere summer months. The shift is a result of increased heating over the Sahara generating a heat low, simultaneous with cooling of the sea surface temperatures over the Gulf of Guinea, creating a pressure gradient between the cooler Atlantic coast of West Africa and the north (Sultan and Janicot 2003). The seasonal time scale of the monsoon is important for annual rainfall amounts, and the daily weather is influenced by the diurnal cycle of convection, which is reliant on monsoon and African Easterly Wave (AEW) processes for moisture supply.

Observation and model studies have documented the large-scale dynamics of the West African monsoon, the formation of the African easterly jet, and AEWs (e.g., Burpee 1972; Thorncroft and Hoskins 1994; Berry and Thorncroft 2005). Despite these efforts there are continuing issues associated with the modeling of the monsoon and the relationship between the monsoon and AEWs is still relatively unexplored. The consequence of this knowledge deficit is an inaccurate representation of West African rainfall by numerical models, leading to poor forecast ability (Washington et al. 2006b).

Moisture transport to northern regions of West Africa is characterized by the diurnal cycle of monsoon winds. This was summarized in Parker et al. (2005a): during the day convection in the boundary layer imposes a drag on horizontal winds, but at night turbulence decreases because of surface cooling allowing the northward penetration of the monsoon. Hence, the strongest wind speeds associated with the monsoon inflow are instigated during nighttime (Dolman et al. 1997), and around the time of monsoon onset the nocturnal low-level flow is primarily responsible for moisture transport to the northern Sahel (confirmed in the humidity budget in Lothon et al. 2008). This emphasizes the importance of understanding the nocturnal boundary layer (NBL) and gives motivation for observation studies. Improved understanding of NBL processes could also impact on the prediction of convection: for example, Vilà-Guerau de Arellano (2007) found that changes in nocturnal boundary layer profiles had an impact on the generation of convection during the day.

The monsoon moist inflow is known to slope vertically downward with latitude and is driven primarily by pressure gradients (Parker et al. 2005b). In the Sahel region (13°–17°N), the monsoon inflow is confined to a 1–2-km layer near the surface, existing solely in the boundary layer (Parker et al. 2005b). The nocturnal jet at 15°N reverses direction between wet and dry seasons (Guichard et al. 2009) and is driven primarily by pressure gradients, not sloping terrain. This latitude is therefore an ideal location for studying the NBL in the context of larger-scale monsoon processes. However, boundary layer observations in the Sahel region have been limited. Poor communication facilities, socioeconomic difficulties, and environmental harshness have resulted in few meteorological observations available outside of main cities. Few nighttime observations exist, apart from midnight radiosoundings.

Previous observation campaigns have highlighted the role of the diurnal cycle on the West African weather. Even early studies such as that of Hamilton and Archbold (1945) included references to the diurnal cycle of winds and convection. McGarry and Reed (1978) looked at the diurnal cycle using satellite and rainfall data from the Global Atmospheric Research Program (GARP) Atlantic Tropical Experiment (GATE) field campaign and Culf (1992) used station and radiosonde data to look at the daytime boundary layer during the Sahelian Energy Balance Experiment (SEBEX) campaign (Wallace et al. 1990). More recently, the diurnal variations in the low-level circulation during the Harmattan dry season were investigated in the Bodélé Experiment 2005 (BoDEx) field campaign in Chad (Washington et al. 2006a; Washington and Todd 2005). The speed of the low-level jet was found to peak during the night and be weakest during the day, in agreement with studies from other areas of the globe (e.g., Mahrt et al. 1979). Subsequent studies of the NBL (Abdou et al. 2010; Lothon et al. 2008; Pospichal et al. 2010) have been conducted as part of the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis (AMMA) field campaign (Redelsperger et al. 2006; Lebel et al. 2010). These papers have provided valuable insights into NBL mechanisms, but the observations are sparse in number and there has not been a set of measurements from the northern Sahel region during the monsoon.

This paper presents a unique new observational dataset of the NBL in the Sahel. Tethered balloon soundings were conducted in August 2005 in Agoufou (15.2°N, 1.3°W), Mali, as part of the AMMA field campaign. The balloon recorded temperature, humidity, wind speed, and direction simultaneously. The Sahelian location of Agoufou is ideal for studying the diurnal cycle in monsoon winds.

The key objective of the study is to provide an overview of nocturnal boundary layer conditions in this rarely visited region. In addition, we compare the observations to output from global forecast models.

The experiment results are presented in two ways: mean evolution of profiles is shown and the night-to-night variability is explored with more detailed analysis of two nights. The field work is described in section 2 and general results are given in section 3. Section 4 looks at the variability in the two case study nights. Section 5 discusses the results and the impact that larger-scale meteorology has on the local boundary layer in the Sahel, while section 6 contains the final summary.

2. Overview of experiments

a. Data collection method

The experiments that took place in August 2005 used a tethered balloon to profile the Sahelian boundary layer up to 200 m. A parafoil kite was used in high winds (approximately 10 m s−1) as such conditions were not suitable for balloon flight. Soundings were made approximately every hour from sunset to dawn. The measurements were taken by a Vaisala TS-5A-SP Tethersonde, sampling every 1.5 s giving pressure, temperature, and relative humidity. The wind speed and direction were determined by a mounted anemometer on the sonde, and standard tailfins were added to give balance and align the sonde with the wind to monitor wind direction. The balloon was a Vaisala Tethered Balloon TTB Series, filled with helium, with dimensions 3.8 m in length and 1.85 m in diameter.

The balloon was stopped every 10 m for 30 s during ascent/descent up to 100 m and every 20 m above that height. This was to reduce the influence of the movement of the balloon from the wind readings; thus only the readings within these stops are included in the results for wind. The stop duration of 30 s was decided upon as a compromise between allowing sufficient time for the balloon to settle, and getting as many measurements in the night as possible. The temperature and humidity readings were taken continually as the movement of the balloon has minimal effect on these. On average, each profile took approximately 20 min to complete including stops. In total, 12 nights were sampled; the number of readings on each night was dependent on weather conditions.

The field site was located at 15.2°N, 1.3°W in a relatively flat region of grassland and small trees; the nearest farmed area was a kilometer to the north at the Agoufou village. Full details of the site are given in Mougin et al. (2009). The nearest significant orography was the tablelike structure of Mount Hombori, reaching 848 m above local ground level, located approximately 30 km to the west and surrounded by plains. The terrain of the field site was slightly rolling, with maximum hill elevations of 10 m. The location was very close to the transition between seasonal grassland and desert.

Information from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and Centre d’Etudes Spatiales de la Biosphère (CESBIO) automatic weather stations were consulted. One CEH station was at Agoufou near the balloon site. The second CEH station was at Edgerit (15.5°N, 1.4°W), much less vegetated than Agoufou with mainly gravelly red soil and few shrubs. The Vaisala WXT510 Weather Transmitter instrument was used to gain temperature and wind information. The stations were installed by CEH, assisted by CESBIO/IRD scientists from Bamako. Data from the CESBIO automatic weather station at Bamba (17.1°N, 1.4°W, 95% sand soil, sparse vegetation) was used because the CEH station was not functioning at this time. (A full list of instrumentation and specifications can be found online at http://amma.mediasfrance.org/implementation/instruments.)

b. Numerical models

Global forecast models are able to accurately simulate large-scale dynamical motions days in advance but are less able to capture small-scale variability such as convergence and convection. This is partly because of lack of resolution, lack of observations to initialize the model, the model surface description, and the limits of soil, turbulent convection, and near-surface data assimilation and parameterizations.

Because of their good representation of large-scale flow, models can be used to some extent to ascertain whether the balloon measurements are representative of a larger area, creating a context for the observations. It is also useful to compare observations to models to assess if current simulations of Sahelian boundary layers are accurate, and if not, what impact this could have on other aspects of model representation over West Africa such as moisture fluxes.

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) model and the Met Office Unified Model (UM; Cullen 1993) are used in section 4 for comparisons to observations. The performance of these models is of interest, as both are used operationally and widely within the research community. Using two gives a reference to each of them, to ascertain whether features are repeated in an alternative model.

The ECMWF analysis, version TL511L60 is used with a resolution of approximately 40 km with 60 levels in the vertical (documentation available online at www.ecmwf.int/publications). The Met Office UM operational global forecast model, version 6.1, has been run in place of using the analysis because of its flexibility of output time and choice of parameter output. The resolution of the model is approximately 40 km meridionally, 60 km zonally at 15°N, with 50 vertical levels. The UM forecasts are initialized from the UM analysis at 0000 UTC on the day of each case study, hence comparisons at 1800 UTC are with the 18-h UM forecast and at 0600 UTC are with the 30-h UM forecast.

c. Overview of the season

The 2005 summer monsoon season produced above-average rainfall across most of the Sahel compared to the climatology of 1979–2000 (Shein 2006). The ECMWF analysis was used to document the synoptic situation in which the observations were taken, in order to evaluate possible larger scale influences. AEW troughs were tracked using the technique outlined in Fink and Reiner (2003), where 2–6-day filtered meridional winds and relative vorticity above a threshold of 10−6 s−1 were used to identify the position of the northern and southern troughs. The troughs were initially identified by a Hovmoeller plot, and manually tracked every 6 h from the wind and vorticity plots.

The analysis suggested that seven AEWs crossed West Africa during August 2005, which was also a particularly active period of hurricane activity in the Atlantic. During the ballooning period, four AEW troughs moved across, reaching the field site longitude on approximately 7, 12, 17, and 21 August.

3. General results and generic observations of the NBL

Data were collected on 12 nights in August 2005, summarized in Table 1. Four full nights’ worth of data was collected from 1800 UTC to approximately 0600 UTC. When a night’s data are referred to, it will be given the date at the beginning of the night’s experiments, so for example, the night of the 12 August will also include the morning of 13 August.

Physical processes in NBLs are nonlinear and the information from Table 1 demonstrates that atmospheric conditions vary from night to night. However, there are some common features that typify the NBL. In this section, we present a composite of many of the experiments from different nights to describe the common features of the Agoufou NBL.

The profiles from 10 nights (9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, and 21 August) were gathered together to present composite plots of the changes in wind, potential temperature, and humidity overnight in the lower boundary layer. The nights selected were used for their quality and quantity of observations. The profile altitudes were normalized against the boundary layer height for each night to reduce the impact of night-to-night variability in boundary layer vertical structure. The normalization presented some challenge, as the majority of profiles were available in the evening transition period between 1800 and 2300 UTC, hence boundary layer height, which is often defined by Richardson number (Garratt 1994; Mahrt et al. 1979) was noisy because of the breakdown of the daytime boundary layer and the setting up of the NBL. An alternative method of finding the boundary layer height was used from Vogelezang and Holtslag (1996).

In Vogelezang and Holtslag (1996) it was stated that boundary layer height, h, can be estimated from
i1520-0493-138-8-3142-e1
where u* is friction velocity, c is a constant, and N is Brunt–Väisälä frequency. Friction velocity was obtained from the Agoufou CEH flux station, available every 30 min. The constant c = 12, which assumes a nonneutral boundary layer (Vogelezang and Holtslag 1996). Different values of c were tested and found to make little difference to the overall structures observed in the final composite; however, it should be noted that this value was calculated for the Cabauw site in the Netherlands and the validity in Agoufou has not been verified. The Brunt–Väisälä frequency, N was found by
i1520-0493-138-8-3142-e2

Here θs and θh are potential temperatures at the surface and at height h, and g is acceleration due to gravity. Potential temperature was used rather than virtual potential temperature because of missing humidity data on some nights significantly reducing the number of points available for averaging. Using Eqs. (1) and (2), the height of the boundary layer was found when h and the sampled height, z, converge on the same value.

Boundary layer height alters throughout the night and is very low immediately after sunset when the daytime layer is breaking up and the NBL is not established. For this analysis, boundary layer heights, which decreased with time were rejected in favor of growing layers. A linear fit was applied to the values of boundary layer height for each night so that h was varying in time. Values in the fit below 15 m were rejected and set to 15 m, and values in the fit above the maximum measured boundary layer height were set to this maximum value. To normalize different night’s boundary layer height by a reference value, an Agoufou “average” boundary layer height that varied in time was created. A linear fit of all data points of boundary layer height was used as an approximation of average boundary layer height. Figure 1 shows the position of the boundary layer height each night, along with the fit for average boundary layer. Again, the average boundary layer height was set so that values less than 15 m were rejected and set to 15 m, and values in the fit above the maximum boundary layer height were set to the maximum recorded value. A square root fit would be more ideal; however, given the sparseness of data points, the linear fit is a reasonable first approximation.

The sampled altitudes were normalized by the night’s boundary layer height ht and the Agoufou average boundary layer height Ht at each time t, such that new altitude for the profiles was given by
i1520-0493-138-8-3142-e3

The values were loaded into a grid with 30 min, 10-m boxes, and values in each box were averaged. Figure 2 was produced, showing the time-normalized height plots for the various parameters using 146 profiles. The plots are smoothed using a three-point running mean interpolation. A linear interpolation was also applied between gaps for presentation: approximately 25% of the plots are gap filled. The result is a composite that shows the main signal from a combination of all nights.

For potential temperature and wind direction, differences from the mean values of the profiles before sunset (1830 UTC) were used. Using the differences removes the effect of each night’s different initial conditions, and presents a clear evolution of the boundary layer overnight. When the same technique was used for the wind speed and mixing ratio, the signal was lost due to averaging and missing values near the beginning of the night, hence a simpler averaged plot of wind speed and mixing ratio from all profiles is shown.

It should also be noted that the composite uses information from fewer nights in the later part because of data availability (see Table 1 for profile times), which may lead to some biasing of the signal after 0200 UTC. Despite this, Fig. 2 can still be used to distinguish structures that are common to the Agoufou NBL, and is a useful visualization tool if used with these limitations in mind.

a. Potential temperature

The observations revealed some consistent structures in the NBL evolution. On most of the nights the surface layers showed a defined inversion in temperature after sunset due to rapid cooling at the surface. This strong gradient was mixed upward from the surface during the night until it escaped the vertical range of the balloon. After that time the temperature throughout the sampled layer was more uniform. Throughout the night, the temperature at the surface continued to decrease, though in the cases where there were measurements further into the night, the nocturnal cooling rate decreased.

b. Mixing ratio

Mixing ratio was higher near the surface after sunset, and decreased rapidly with height above H(z/h) = 100 m. Later profiles showed a complex structure in the mixing ratio and Fig. 2b shows some moistening throughout the composite NBL between 0000 and 0300 UTC.

It is possible that the increase in moisture in the composite is the signature of horizontal advection of moister air from lower latitudes due to the monsoon inflow (Lothon et al. 2008). It is also possible that some moistening is due to evaporation directly from the soil pores. The drying seen after 0330 UTC was based on fewer profiles, but coincided with faster wind speeds and more mixing taking place in the early hours. A possible explanation is therefore that the available moisture was mixed higher throughout the boundary layer, resulting in a decrease in mixing ratio in the lower layers.

c. Wind speed and direction

During the night a stable nocturnal layer developed from the surface. The wind speeds above approximately H(z/h) = 100 m increased rapidly once the inversion was set up, due to the reduction in turbulence associated with a stably stratified profile. An increase in wind speed was recorded for all nights, with a low-level jet observed on several nights above H(z/h) = 150 m. The increase in speed between 150 and 200 m is consistent with similar observations from semiarid regions (Lothon et al. 2008; Mahrt et al. 1979; Washington and Todd 2005), which have shown jet formation taking place between 200 and 400 m. The higher wind speeds eventually led to the erosion of the inversion from above through shear-driven mixing.

There were often only very weak changes in wind direction recorded by the tethersonde during the night, shown in Fig. 2c, though some signal may be lost due to variability and averaging. The weak direction changes are in agreement with the Agoufou surface station data, where the August mean directional change from evening to morning was 40°, and not consistently anticlockwise. Blackadar (1957), Buajitti and Blackadar (1957), and Thorpe and Guymer (1977) describe the inertial oscillation processes, which lead to the turning of nocturnal jet winds with time. One full inertial oscillation at the location of Agoufou would take approximately 46 h to complete because of the low latitude. This translates to a wind direction change of 90° over the course of the night. This suggests that the inertial oscillation is being damped, possibly by frictional forces, advection, or more dominant ageostrophic components (see conditions for inertial oscillation in Davis 2000) because of the low altitude of the measurements.

In general the direction of the wind maximum for each night was from the southwest. The direction of the prevailing monsoon wind at this latitude is from the southwest rather than from the south due to the Coriolis effect acting on synoptic-scale wind motions and the presence of the heat low maximum over Algeria, northern Niger, and northern Mali.

The wind observations showed that there were significant variations in strength from one night to the next. It often appeared in the data that on the nights where there was a stronger inversion, faster wind speeds were recorded by the balloon.

The relationship between inversion and jet strength will be explored in section 4 using the gradient Richardson number (Ri) to analyze the tethersonde data. A large Ri due to stable conditions and a strong inversion, would indicate a less turbulent atmosphere, suggesting any jet would be more free to accelerate. Therefore, on nights where Ri is higher, the wind speed in the jet is expected to be faster. However, later in the night, a stronger jet would lead to more shear and more turbulence, reducing the value of Ri. Turbulence becomes more significant as Ri tends to 0.25 (Oke 1988), though this value may be higher, up to 1, for intermittent turbulence to occur (Mahrt 1999; Zilitinkevich and Baklanov 2002). Therefore, the turbulence generated by the jet, coupled with a mixing and erosion of the inversion strength would lead to lower values of Ri later in the night. In contrast, nights when Ri values are low early on in the night, would be expected to retain relatively constant values throughout.

4. Case study nights

The profiles showed variability in observed features from one night to the next. Two case studies have been selected to highlight the variability and to discuss possible mechanisms that account for the differences. The dates 11 and 18 August were chosen because of the variety in observed features between the two nights and for their quality of observations.

Table 2 presents data from the surface stations at Agoufou, Edgerit, and Bamba to provide a comparison to the balloon data and an evaluation of the main observed features. Wind direction for the start of the night is an average between 2000 and 2300 UTC to reduce the impact of unsteady wind changes during the nocturnal transition phase immediately after sunset.

a. Night of 11 August 2005

1) Boundary layer observations

The day of 11 August was one of the hotter days of the experiment period. The temperature difference between day and night was large at all stations. A selection of five profiles from 11 August is shown in Fig. 3. Sixteen profiles were completed overall. The nocturnal profiles provide a classic “textbook” example of the evolution of the NBL, where the temperature, humidity and wind direction profiles are all closely interlinked, such as in Garratt (1994).

Figures 3a,d show strong near-surface temperature and humidity inversions present immediately after sunset. During the night the temperature profile below 100 m became less stable as the wind speed increased, and temperature and humidity became more uniform throughout the layer.

The nocturnal jet formed at the top of the sampled layer, with wind speeds increasing steadily above 50 m throughout the night. The measured wind speed reached a maximum of 12 m s−1 at approximately 120 m above the ground at 0300 UTC (not shown). Wind direction was steadily from the southwest. The only notable large change in direction was close to the surface; however, this can be accounted for by the lightness of the winds causing instability in the direction of the sonde.

The plot of gradient Richardson number, Fig. 3c, shows high levels of stability (high Ri) higher up and a shallow layer near the surface where Ri was low. In general, Ri decreased in time toward the end of the night, occurring at the same time as a decrease in the strength of the inversion and an increase in wind shear with the increasing jet strength.

Table 2 shows some of the automatic weather station data for the night of 11 August. The winds exhibit similar speeds at all stations and reach their maximum at 2 m at similar times. The change in wind direction during the night is small at both Agoufou and Bamba, but larger at Edgerit. A closer inspection of data showed that the large swing at Edgerit occurred after 0300 UTC and before this the wind direction had changed very little. The change to more northerly flow at Edgerit occurred from 0400 to 0700 UTC and coincided with a period of very low wind speed (close to 1 m s−1).

2) Comparisons with numerical models

The ECMWF operational analysis and the Met Office UM operational forecast model at global resolution were compared to the balloon data. The ECMWF operational analysis was available for only 1800, 0000, and 0600 UTC, so the observations as close as possible to these times were used in the comparisons.

Figure 4 shows that the observed wind direction agrees with models at 0008 and 0405 UTC, lending confidence to both models and observations as representative of large-scale boundary layer flow later in the night. The discrepancies in the 1822 UTC profiles cannot be explained, but it is likely that the models are influenced by incorrect local flows or convection since they disagree with each other as well as the observations. Figure 4 also shows that the ECMWF model depicts a weaker nocturnal jet at 0000 and 0600 UTC than was observed. Comparisons with the Met Office UM operational forecast model also showed that the wind speeds observed by the balloon were higher than those predicted by the UM forecast. The UM showed a consistent bias in temperature of approximately 2 K less than observations. The ECMWF also underestimated temperature, most notably at 0600 UTC.

3) Synoptic-scale events—Ahead of a trough

Wave tracking, using the technique explained in section 2c, showed an AEW trough located 500 km to the east of the field site with the northern vortex centered at 20°N, 1°E at 0000 UTC 12 August. This was the second trough to pass during the experiment period.

The UM and ECMWF models both showed consistent southwesterly winds in the boundary layer in line with the positioning of the trough and geostrophic balance. This lends confidence to the assertion that tethered balloon measurements reflected the larger-scale wind direction for this night.

b. Night of 18 August 2005

1) Boundary layer observations

The balloon observations on 18 August are shown in Fig. 5. The temperatures were approximately 4 K lower than on the 11 August, and the wind speed was less. The wind was particularly calm after sunset near the surface, and the sonde recorded <1 m s−1 in the lowest 20 m in the 1909 UTC sounding. This lack of wind only occurred on one other night, at 1923 UTC 15 August, when a storm was observed to the north at the same time. At sunset on 18 August, sporadic cumulus congestus with rain shafts were observed. It could be on both these days that outflows from storms acted to cancel the developing surface winds, or influenced the boundary layer decoupling from the land surface. It would be a point for further investigation to assess whether this is a common condition in Sahelian boundary layers, and a motivation for more nocturnal boundary layer observations.

The balloon observations displayed a bimodal wind direction on 18 August, which was not observed on other nights. Figure 5 shows the rapid change in wind direction between the 0002 UTC profile and the 0207 UTC profile. Before midnight the wind direction recorded by the tethersonde was predominantly from the southeast. This changed abruptly at midnight to a more southwesterly direction. Agoufou station data for the night (Table 2) showed a light southwesterly flow near sunset changing to a southeasterly direction by 2200 UTC. A rapid change back to the southwest was also seen in the station data at midnight. The same directional change from southeasterly (mean 2000 to 2300 UTC) to southwesterly winds (mean 0300 to 0600 UTC) was seen in the station data at Edgerit and Bamba. The corresponding wind speed was also recorded as being extremely low at all stations.

The wind change at midnight was not associated with a gust front, as no notable changes in temperature (nor humidity) were recorded in the station or balloon data. However the sonic anemometer at Agoufou measured a short burst of high turbulent kinetic energy at the same time as the wind change to southwesterly. The ground measurements, coupled with the balloon data, indicate that there was possibly some mesoscale circulation influencing the region, with wind from the east that developed against a weak monsoon inflow from the southwest. The burst in turbulence could have indicated the arrival of a convergence line and therefore a change of the dominant influence on boundary layer winds.

Thus, the balloon data depicted an uncertain balance between two flows during the first part of the night, which was resolved by station data at the model grid scale (50–200 km). The second part of the night was more homogeneous in terms of wind direction.

The wind speed recorded by the tethersonde did not increase significantly during the night, unlike most other nights, and speed was seen to decrease somewhat in the later profiles. In comparison to the profiles taken on 11 August and the average profile of Fig. 2, the temperature and humidity inversions on 18 August were less pronounced. The Ri plots show a much higher level of turbulence (lower Ri) throughout the profile than on 11 August. This is in line with the observation in section 3 that low stability and low jet speeds are interlinked. This is also linked to radiative cooling as more cooling would lead to higher stability and faster jets, as seen in the observations at the Cabauw tower of Baas et al. (2009). The sensible heat flux at Agoufou, shown in Table 2, demonstrates that the 18 August had less cooling at night than the 11 August, confirming that the 18 August satisfied these conditions likely to cause slower wind speeds near the surface.

2) Comparisons with numerical models

Figure 6 displays comparisons between the balloon observations, the ECMWF analysis, and the UM forecast. Both models simulated changes in wind direction during the night, from southeast to southwest. In general models will be expected to show better skill at simulating large-scale air motions. Their qualitative agreement with the balloon observations could indicate that wind direction was influenced by mesoscale or large-scale wind patterns rather than isolated local effects or convective outflow at Agoufou.

As for 11 August, the ECMWF model tended to underestimate wind speed in the planetary boundary layer. The UM wind speed was similar to observations at 0000 UTC and underestimated at 0600 UTC. Temperatures in both models were mainly cooler than observations.

3) Synoptic-scale events—Behind a trough

Wave tracking found an AEW trough axis located to the west of the field site on 18 August. This was the third wave event during the experimental period. Figure 7 shows the corresponding positions of vorticity maxima and UM winds at 925 hPa at 0000 UTC 19 August 2005; the northern center of the AEW is notably to the west of the southern center.

In the early evening, UM boundary layer winds at 925 hPa were from the southeast, reflecting the influence of the synoptic trough. Later model analysis showed a switch to more southwesterly winds, and a strengthening of the nocturnal jet as geostrophic wind associated with the surface heat low and monsoon inflow reached the site location. By 0600 UTC a strong southwesterly flow existed over Burkina Faso, southern Mali, and Niger associated with the low-level monsoon. The UM simulated a gradual change in wind direction unlike the sharp change in direction at midnight observed by the tethersonde and surface stations. The switch in winds to the southwest during the night did not occur in the model 850-hPa winds, and the midtroposphere winds continued to be south-southeasterly.

This case has displayed wind directional changes that were consistent between surface stations, the balloon data, and model and are explained by the large-scale synoptic situation. This could indicate that the local boundary layer can be affected by trough passage if conditions are favorable.

5. Discussion

The results from the tethered balloon experiments and the subsequent investigations with numerical models have provided new information on the boundary layer evolution in the Sahelian region of West Africa. The direction and speed of the winds observed by the balloon on all nights is consistent with the expected monsoon flow shown in the analysis of dropsondes in Parker et al. (2005b). The rate of change at which the wind speed increases on some nights suggests a fast switching mechanism between convective vertical circulation domination and monsoonal, horizontal influences.

For both case studies detailed, the maximum nocturnal wind speeds were underrepresented in the two global models used for comparison. This in agreement with Cuxart et al. (2006), where comparisons between several global models and a large-eddy model showed underestimation of wind speed below 200 m by operational models. Our findings are also consistent with the modeling studies of the Bodélé NBL in Todd et al. (2008), where there was an underestimation of the observed jet by models. Agusti-Panareda et al. (2009) looked at mean ECMWF model biases in comparison to radiosonde data and found systematic errors in temperature in the Sahel region and a general overestimation of winds in contradiction to our findings from the case studies. However, the diurnal cycle, and the NBL was not isolated in the study so it may be that boundary layer mixing is too high at night, but the daytime positive bias in wind dominates the mean signal. Since the southerly, nocturnal winds are primarily responsible for the northward transport of moisture, it is important to investigate how an underestimate of low-level wind strength affects the moisture flux.

Figure 8 shows profiles of nighttime horizontal moisture flux from observations and UM simulations for the nights of the case studies using time-averaged profiles from each of the times presented in Figs. 4 and 6. The graphs show wind speeds multiplied by specific humidity and density (V) for each level recorded. For 11 August, there is a much greater mean moisture flux from observations than model for the night. When the fluxes were integrated over 12 h over a depth of 130 m, the mean flux from the observations was 0.11 kg m−1 compared to 0.07 kg m−1 in the model. The model underestimates the moisture flux in this layer, which is expected as the winds were significantly underestimated for the night. For 18 August, however, the model mean moisture flux over 60 m for the night was 0.06 kg m−1, closer to the observations integrated over the same depth, 0.04 kg m−1. This was due to the overestimation of moisture by the model in the earliest profile. This compensates for the lower winds, achieving a good representation of the overall moisture flux on the nights where the model predicts high specific humidity.

To assess the significance of moisture transport in the lower layers, radiosonde profiles from Niamey (13.48°N, 2.17°E) for July and August 2006 were examined and the result from August is shown in Fig. 9. Both months’ data showed that the moisture transport northward primarily takes place in the lower layers, below 900 hPa in agreement with Lothon et al. (2008). This level was often reached in the balloon measurements, indicating that the findings of this study have wider implications for moisture transport.

Despite the underestimation of winds by the models, it should be noted that there have been changes to the boundary layer schemes in more recent versions of both the UM (version 6.3, Brown et al. 2008) and the ECMWF (Tompkins et al. 2004), since the versions of the models used in this study. It would be beneficial in future work to revisit observations in the Sahel region to establish whether the deficiencies still exist using these schemes. Our results emphasize the need for accurate depiction of the speed of winds in the boundary layer, and show how underestimation has consequences for moisture flux estimation which could in turn impact on convection prediction.

Returning to the balloon observations, local nocturnal boundary winds generally aligned with southwesterly flow into the continent-scale heat low. However, there was evidence that winds could be influenced by changes in mesoscale or synoptic-scale flow. The times when wind direction appeared to be influenced by larger-scale movements (as on 18 August), were when wind speeds were lower, at times when there was a weaker monsoon inflow and therefore larger-scale AEW dynamics could hold greater influence on boundary layer winds. This point requires further investigation as the evidence is taken from one case study only.

6. Summary and conclusions

This is the first presentation of dynamical and thermodynamical observations taken of the nocturnal boundary layer of the climate sensitive Sahel region during the monsoon. These results have given some insight into real boundary layer features in a region that is very sensitive to changes in moisture and is particularly vulnerable to interannual variability of rainfall. Processes were observed to change at a very fine temporal scale; these would not be captured with 6-h sampling and only marginally with 3 h. Thus this dataset is particularly useful for its time resolution, and also for its abundance of surface station data available to corroborate findings.

The observations have provided some confirmations of boundary layer structure theory and of numerical modeling. Strong inversions of temperature and humidity occurred directly after sunset. Inversions were eroded during the night by mixing caused by increases in wind speed and turbulence.

Because of the low altitude of the measurements, little turning of the winds was found and wind direction was generally observed to settle to the southwest by the early hours of the morning, despite any initial variation in direction. Comparisons with numerical models showed that observed wind speeds were higher than model wind speed and this could lead to an underestimation of moisture flux.

Correlations between unusual model and observed wind direction changes on 18 August 2005 suggested that the local boundary layer could be affected by nonlocal conditions on the large scale such as AEW activity.

Finally, the variability in these findings points to the need for more investigation into nocturnal boundary layers in this region. The role of nocturnal fluxes in synoptic dynamics is unknown and the link between boundary layer conditions and changes in convection and the alteration of synoptic features such as African Easterly Waves is yet to be explored.

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge the AMMA community and the people of Hombori and Agoufou for their support of this research. We would also like to thank Yakouba Traore and Frederic Baup for their help with operating the balloon and kite. We are grateful to Eric Mougin and Franck Timouk at IRD in Mali for their support in organization. Thanks to Andreas Fink and Volker Ermet at the University of Cologne for providing the programs and support for wave tracking and to Anna Agusti-Panareda for information on the ECMWF model. The UM modeling support was provided by NCAS and ECMWF operational analysis was obtained from the British Atmospheric Data Centre. Thank you to three anonymous reviewers whose comments improved the manuscript considerably. This work was supported by AMMA-UK and conducted as part of NERC Ph.D. Project NER/S/A/2004/12332.

Based on a French initiative, AMMA was built by an international scientific group and is currently funded by a large number of agencies, especially from France, United Kingdom, United States, and Africa. It has been the beneficiary of a major financial contribution from the European Community’s Sixth Framework Research Programme. (Detailed information on scientific coordination and funding is available on the AMMA International Web site at http://www.amma-international.org.)

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Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

Estimations of boundary layer height against time for different nights. The line represents the Agoufou average boundary layer height calculated as a fit to the data points available. These data are used to normalize heights of profile measurements so they may be used in the composite of Fig. 2.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 138, 8; 10.1175/2010MWR3287.1

Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.

Time against normalized height plots of (a) potential temperature, (b) mixing ratio, (c) wind direction, and (d) wind speed composed from 10 nights’ worth of tethered balloon and kite profiles (9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, and 21 Aug 2005). The potential temperature and wind direction plots represent an interpolation of differences from initial values of parameters for all of the results collected from 10 nights. The mixing ratio and wind speed plots show an interpolation of values from all of the results collected from 9 nights.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 138, 8; 10.1175/2010MWR3287.1

Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.

Selected profiles from the night of 11 Aug 2005 at 5 times during the night: (a) potential temperature, (b) wind speed, (c) Richardson number, (d) mixing ratio, and (e) wind direction. Times marked in the legend of (a). In (c), a line marks the transition at a value of 0.25 < Ri < 1 between stable and turbulent flow.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 138, 8; 10.1175/2010MWR3287.1

Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.

11 Aug 2005: Comparisons between the UM forecast (solid black line), ECMWF analysis (dashed line) and observations (gray line). (a) 1822 UTC observations against UM and ECMWF at 1800 UTC, (b) 0008 UTC observations against UM and ECMWF at 0000 UTC, and (c) 0405 UTC observations against UM at 0400 UTC and ECMWF at 0600 UTC.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 138, 8; 10.1175/2010MWR3287.1

Fig. 5.
Fig. 5.

As in Fig. 3, but from the night of 18 Aug 2005 at 5 times during the night.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 138, 8; 10.1175/2010MWR3287.1

Fig. 6.
Fig. 6.

18 August 2005: Comparisons between the UM forecast (solid black line), ECMWF analysis (dashed line), and observations (gray line). (a) 1908 UTC observations against UM at 1900 UTC, ECMWF at 1800 UTC, (b) 0002 UTC observations against UM and ECMWF at 0000 UTC, and (c) 0554 UTC observations against UM and ECMWF at 0600 UTC.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 138, 8; 10.1175/2010MWR3287.1

Fig. 7.
Fig. 7.

Vorticity and winds from the ECMWF operational analysis at 925 hPa at 0000 UTC 19 Aug 2005. Positive vorticity is shown in black, negative in dashed light gray, while contours are every 10−5 s−1. The field site is marked with a cross. A trough with two centers, north and south, can be seen to the east of Mauritania, west of Mali/Burkina Faso.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 138, 8; 10.1175/2010MWR3287.1

Fig. 8.
Fig. 8.

Mean nighttime moisture flux (V) comparisons in kg m−2 s−1, from the evenings of (a) 11 and (b) 18 Aug 2005: observations in gray and UM in black.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 138, 8; 10.1175/2010MWR3287.1

Fig. 9.
Fig. 9.

Composite moisture flux (V) from all radiosonde profiles from Niamey for August 2006. Soundings at 1200 UTC are represented by the thin gray line, bold gray line for 1800 UTC, thin black line for 0000 UTC, and bold black line for 0600 UTC. Shading represents +/− standard deviation.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 138, 8; 10.1175/2010MWR3287.1

Table 1.

Summary of balloon/kite data for nights in August 2005. Number of profiles is number of complete (up and down is one) profiles recorded. Time is given in UTC, wind speed given in m s−1, height given in m, potential temperature T in K, and mixing ratio in g kg−1. Dashes indicate where data are not available or are possibly unreliable.

Table 1.
Table 2.

Agoufou, Edgerit, and Bamba surface station data for the case study nights. Temperature is used instead of potential temperature because of the unavailability of pressure data at Bamba. The periods of the observations are 24 h starting at 0600 on the date indicated and finishing at 0600 the following day. Day is defined as 0600–1800 UTC and night is 1800–0600 UTC.

Table 2.
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