An Investigation of the Role of Land-Atmosphere Interactions on Nocturnal Convective Activity in the Southern Great Plains

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Erlingis, Jessica Marie


Barros, Ana P

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This study examines whether and how land-atmosphere interactions can have an impact on the nocturnal convection over the Southern Great Plains (SGP) through numerical simulations of an intense nocturnal mesoscale convective system (MCS) on 19-20 June 2007 with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF V3.3) model. High-resolution nested simulations were conducted using realistic and idealized land-surfaces and two different planetary boundary layer parameterizations: Yonsei University (YSU) and Mellor-Yamada-Janjic (MYJ). All simulations show a persistent dry layer around 2 km during daytime and, despite ample instability in the boundary layer, the lack of a mesoscale lifting mechanism prevents precipitating convection in the daytime and in the evening ahead of the MCS passage after local midnight. Integral differences in timing and amount of MCS precipitation among observations and model results were examined in the light of daytime land-atmosphere interactions, nocturnal pre-storm environment, cold pool strength, squall line morphology and propagation speed, and storm rainfall. At the meso-gamma scale, differences in land-cover and soil type have as much of an effect on the simulated pre-storm environment as the choice of PBL parameterization: MYJ simulations exhibit strong sensitivity to changes in the land-surface in contrast to negligible impact in the case of YSU. A comparison of one-way and two-way nested MYJ results demonstrates that daytime land-atmosphere interactions modify the pre-storm environment remotely through advection of low-level thermodynamic features, which strongly impact the development phases of the MCS. At the end of the afternoon, as the boundary layer collapses, a more homogenous and deeper PBL (and stronger low level shear) is evident in the case of YSU as compared to MYJ when initial land-surface conditions are the same. For different land-surface conditions, propagation speed is generally faster, and organization (bow echo morphology) and cold pool strength enhanced when nocturnal PBL heights are higher and there is stronger low level shear in the pre-storm environment independently of the boundary layer parameterization. To elucidate the distinct roles of mesoscale transport and redistribution of low level instability (daytime remote feedbacks) and low level shear in the downwind pre-storm environment (nighttime local feedbacks), which is to separate the nonlinear land-atmosphere physical processes from PBL parameterization-specific effects on simulated storm dynamics, requires addressing the phase delay in storm development and propagation between the observed and the simulated MCS.

Another research objective was to examine the contribution of the land surface at short time scales. A second set of experiments was performed in which the land surface properties were homogenized every 5 minutes. The results show that surface effects are most pronounced during periods of insolation and, for the Yonsei University PBL parameterization, effects on the PBL height are most pronounced at the time of PBL collapse. Image processing techniques were found to be a useful measure of the spatial variation within fields. The results of this study show that, for this case, the integrated effect of the land surface can have a noticeable effect on convection, but such effects are not readily discernible at the 5-minute scale. While this study focused on the thermodynamic effects, further work should examine sensitivity to grid spacing and surface roughness.





Erlingis, Jessica Marie (2012). An Investigation of the Role of Land-Atmosphere Interactions on Nocturnal Convective Activity in the Southern Great Plains. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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