Observations of Surface Energy Fluxes and Boundary-Layer Structure Over Heron Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Mellissa C. MacKellar, Hamish A. McGowan, Stuart R. Phinn, Joshua S. Soderholm

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Over warm, shallow coral reefs the surface radiation and energy fluxes differ from those of the open ocean and result in modification to the marine atmospheric boundary layer via the development of convective internal boundary layers. The complex interrelationships between the surface energy balance and boundary-layer characteristics influence local weather (wind, temperature, humidity) and hydrodynamics (water temperature and currents), as well as larger scale processes, including cloud field properties and precipitation. The nature of these inter-relationships has not been accurately described for coral reef environments. This study presents the first measurements of the surface energy balance, radiation budget and boundary layer thermodynamics made over a coral reef using an eddy-covariance system and radiosonde aerological profiling of the lower atmosphere. Results show that changes in surface properties and the associated energetics across the ocean-reef boundary resulted in modification to the marine atmospheric boundary layer during the Austral winter and summer. Internal convective boundary layers developed within the marine atmospheric boundary layer over the reef and were found to be deeper in the summer, yet more unstable during the winter when cold and drier flow from the mainland enhances heat and moisture fluxes to the atmosphere. A mixed layer was identified in the marine atmospheric boundary layer varying from 375 to 1,200 m above the surface, and was deeper during the summer, particularly under stable anticyclonic conditions. Significant cloud cover and at times rain resulted in the development of a stable stratified atmosphere over the reef. Our findings show that, for Heron Reef, a lagoonal platform reef, there was a horizontal discontinuity in surface energy fluxes across the ocean-reef boundary, which modified the marine atmospheric boundary layer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-340
Number of pages22
JournalBoundary-Layer Meteorology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Air-sea exchange
  • Coral reef
  • Eddy covariance
  • Great Barrier Reef
  • Internal boundary layer
  • Marine atmospheric boundary layer

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