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An airborne investigation of the structure of the atmospheric boundary layer over the tropical ocean Donelan, Mark Anthony


Across the air-sea interface there is a transfer of momentum, heat and moisture. Knowledge of these is essential to the understanding of oceanic and atmospheric circulations. This study is an investigation of the vertical turbulent transfers of momentum, heat and moisture in the boundary layer of the atmosphere using an instrumented light aircraft. The data were collected at several altitudes between 18 m and 500 m in the Atlantic trade wind zone east of the island of Barbados. Since the tropical ocean is the primary source of heat input to the atmospheric heat engine, good estimates, in this region, of the transfers of heat and moisture and their vertical variations are essential to any global numerical atmospheric prediction scheme. The fluctuations of the velocity components, temperature and humidity and the transfers of momentum, heat and moisture were investigated, primarily by means of their spectra and cospectra. It was found that: ninety percent of the heat input to the atmosphere was in the form of latent heat; the sensible heat flux was positive (upward) at the small scales generated near the surface and negative at the large scales due to subsiding air; the latent heat flux was positive at all scales and similar in spectral distribution to the momentum flux; the flow appeared to be anisotropic even at scales one hundred times smaller than the distance from the boundary; the drag coefficient, from direct measurements of the momentum flux (or stress), was (1.45±0.08) x 10⁻³; shear generated turbulence was not entirely dissipated locally.

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