Modulation of mean wind and turbulence in the atmospheric boundary layer by baroclinicity

Mostafa Momen, Elie R. Bou-Zeid, Marc B. Parlange, Marco Giometto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


This paper investigates the effects of baroclinic pressure gradients on mean flow and turbulence in the diabatic atmospheric boundary layer (ABL). Large-eddy simulations are conducted where the direction of the baroclinicity, its strength, and the surface buoyancy flux are systematically varied to examine their interacting effects. The thermal wind vector, which represents the vertical change in the geostrophic wind vector resulting from horizontal temperature gradients, significantly influences the velocity profiles, the Ekman turning, and the strength and location of the low-level jet (LLJ). For instance, cold advection and positive (negative) geostrophic shear increased (decreased) friction velocity and changed the LLJ elevation. Given the baroclinicity strength and direction under neutral conditions, a simple reduced model is proposed and validated here to predict the general trends of baroclinic mean winds. The baroclinic effects on turbulence intensity and structure are even more intricate, with turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) profiles displaying an increase of TKE magnitude with height for some cases. When a fixed destabilizing surface heat flux is added, a positive geostrophic shear favors streamwise aligned roll-type structures, which are typical of neutral ABLs. Conversely, a negative geostrophic shear promotes cell-type structures, which are typical of strongly unstable ABLs. Furthermore, baroclinicity increases shear in the outer ABL and tends to make the outer flow more neutral by decreasing the Richardson flux number. These findings are consequential for meteorological measurements and the wind-energy industry, among others: baroclinicity alters the mean wind profiles, the TKE, coherent structures, and the stability of the ABL, and its effects need to be considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3797-3821
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Baroclinic flows
  • Boundary layer
  • Ekman pumping/transport
  • Large eddy simulations
  • Turbulence
  • Wind


Dive into the research topics of 'Modulation of mean wind and turbulence in the atmospheric boundary layer by baroclinicity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this