A Simple Model for the Afternoon and Early Evening Decay of Convective Turbulence Over Different Land Surfaces

Daniel F. Nadeau, Eric R. Pardyjak, Chad W. Higgins, Harinda Joseph S Fernando, Marc B. Parlange

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A simple model to study the decay of turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) in the convective surface layer is presented. In this model, the TKE is dependent upon two terms, the turbulent dissipation rate and the surface buoyancy fluctuations. The time evolution of the surface sensible heat flux is modelled based on fitting functions of actual measurements from the LITFASS-2003 field campaign. These fitting functions carry an amplitude and a time scale. With this approach, the sensible heat flux can be estimated without having to solve the entire surface energy balance. The period of interest covers two characteristic transition sub-periods involved in the decay of convective boundary-layer turbulence. The first sub-period is the afternoon transition, when the sensible heat flux starts to decrease in response to the reduction in solar radiation. It is typically associated with a decay rate of TKE of approximately t-2 (t is time following the start of the decay) after several convective eddy turnover times. The early evening transition is the second sub-period, typically just before sunset when the surface sensible heat flux becomes negative. This sub-period is characterized by an abrupt decay in TKE associated with the rapid collapse of turbulence. Overall, the results presented show a significant improvement of the modelled TKE decay when compared to the often applied assumption of a sensible heat flux decreasing instantaneously or with a very short forcing time scale. In addition, for atmospheric modelling studies, it is suggested that the afternoon and early evening decay of sensible heat flux be modelled as a complementary error function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-324
Number of pages24
JournalBoundary-Layer Meteorology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Afternoon transition
  • Curve fitting
  • Decay of convective turbulence
  • Early evening transition
  • Sensible heat flux
  • Surface layer
  • Turbulent kinetic energy

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