African easterly wave dynamics in a Mesoscale numerical model: the upscale role of convection

Gareth James Berry, Chris Thorncroft

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To examine the dynamical role of convection in African easterly wave (AEW) life cycles the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model is used to simulate the evolution of a single AEW from September 2004. The model simulations are validated against corresponding numerical weather prediction analyses and the mean fields closely resemble composite structures from previous studies. A potential vorticity (PV) thinking approach is used to highlight the interactions between dynamics and convection. Organized deep convection embedded within the AEW has a large contribution to the synoptic-scale mean PV and energetics of the AEW. The PV tendency is maximized in the lower troposphere, consistent with the vertical gradient in diabatic heating rates in the areas of convection. By examining terms in the Lorenz energy cycle, it is shown that diabatic heating associated with convection is as important as adiabatic energy conversion in producing eddy available potential energy of the synoptic AEW, implying that AEWs are best described as hybrid adiabatic and diabatic structures. The net effect of convection is succinctly described using a simulation whereby the parameterizations associated with convection are switched off at the midpoint of the model run. This perturbation experiment shows that, although the AEW continues to propagate westward with a similar phase speed, the net PV value continually weakens with time. This result proves that convection is vital for the maintenance of the AEW as it propagates across West Africa and suggests that without active convection the synoptic AEW cannot persist for an extended length of time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1267 - 1283
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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