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Title: Near-surface Density Currents Observed in the Southeast Pacific Stratocumulus-topped Marine Boundary Layer

Density currents (i.e. cold pools or outflows) beneath marine stratocumulus clouds are characterized using a 30-d data set of ship-based observations obtained during the 2008 Variability of American Monsoon Systems (VAMOS) Ocean-Cloud-Atmosphere-Land Study Regional Experiment (VOCALS-REx) in the southeast Pacific. An objective method identifies 71 density current fronts using an air density criterion and isolates each density current’s core (peak density) and tail (dissipating) zone. Compared to front and core zones, most density current tails exhibited weaker density gradients and wind anomalies elongated about the axis of the mean wind. The mean cloud-level advection relative to the surface layer wind (1.9 m s-1) nearly matches the mean density current propagation speed (1.8 m s-1). The similarity in speeds allows drizzle cells to deposit tails in their wakes. Based on high-resolution scanning Doppler lidar data, prefrontal updrafts had a mean intensity of 0.91 m s-1, reached an average altitude of 800 m, and were often surmounted by low-lying shelf clouds not connected to the overlying stratocumulus cloud. Nearly 90% of density currents were identified when C-band radar estimated 30-km diameter areal average rain rates exceeded 1 mm d-1. Rather than peaking when rain rates are highest overnight, density current occurrence peaksmore » between 0600 and 0800 local solar time when enhanced local drizzle co-occurs with shallow subcloud dry and stable layers. The dry layers may contribute to density current formation by enhancing subcloud evaporation of drizzle. Density currents preferentially occur in regions of open cells but also occur in regions of closed cells.« less
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Journal Article
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Journal Name: Monthly Weather Review, 143(9):3532–3555
Research Org:
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, WA (US)
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Country of Publication:
United States
marine stratocumulus clouds; density currents; stratocumulus-topped marine boundary layer