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Near-Surface Density Currents Observed in the Southeast Pacific Stratocumulus-Topped Marine Boundary Layer*
  • Published Date:
    2015
  • Source:
    Monthly Weather Review, 143(9), 3532-3555.
Filetype[PDF-2.73 MB]


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  • Description:
    Density currents (i.e., cold pools or outflows) beneath marine stratocumulus clouds are characterized using 30 days 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 air density increase criterion applied to the Improved Meteorological (IMET) sensor data identified 71 density current front, core (peak density), and tail (dissipating) zones. The similarity in speeds of the mean density current propagation speed (1.8 m s(-1)) and the mean cloud-level advection relative to the surface layer wind (1.9 m s(-1)) allowed drizzle cells to deposit elongated density currents in their wakes. Scanning Doppler lidar captured prefrontal updrafts with a mean intensity of 0.91 m s(-1) and an average vertical extent of 800 m. Updrafts were often surmounted by low-lying shelf clouds not connected to the overlying stratocumulus cloud. The observed density currents were 5-10 times thinner and weaker than typical continental thunderstorm cold pools. Nearly 90% of density currents were identified when C-band radar estimated areal average rain rates exceeded 1 mm day(-1) over a 30-km diameter. Rather than peaking when rain rates were highest overnight, density current occurrence peaks between 0600 and 0800 local solar time when enhanced local drizzle co-occurred with shallow subcloud dry and stable layers. The dry layers may have contributed to density current formation by enhancing subcloud evaporation of drizzle. Density currents preferentially occurred in a large region of predominantly open cells but also occurred in regions of closed cells.
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