Organized Turbulence in a Cold-Air Outbreak: Evaluating a Large-Eddy Simulation with Respect to Airborne Measurements

  • Pierre-Etienne BrilouetEmail author
  • Pierre Durand
  • Guylaine Canut
  • Nadia Fourrié
Research Article


Cold-air outbreaks (CAO) lead to intense air–sea interactions, the appropriate representation of which are fundamental for climate modelling and numerical weather forecasting. We analyze a CAO event with low-level wind speeds of approximately 25 m s\(^{-1}\) observed in the north-western Mediterranean Sea. The marine atmospheric boundary layer (MABL) was sampled with an aircraft equipped for turbulence measurements, revealing the organization of the MABL flow in coherent structures oriented along the mean wind direction, which was then simulated in two steps. First, a one-dimensional simulation enabled the determination of the forcing terms (particularly horizontal advection) required to adequately reproduce the vertical structure of the MABL flow. These terms were computed from a limited-area forecast model in operation during the entire field campaign. Then, a large-eddy simulation (LES) was performed during the well-established phase of the CAO event. The LES output is validated with respect to airborne data, not only with respect to the mean wind-speed and thermodynamic profiles, but also the turbulence statistics and coherent structures. The validated LES results enable description of the turbulent field as well as the coherent structures. The main discrepancy is a considerable underestimation of the simulated evaporation (computed with a parametrization of the turbulent surface fluxes), and hence of the moisture fluctuations throughout the boundary layer. Several possible explanations may explain this underestimation. The structure of the boundary layer is nonetheless well reproduced by the LES model, including the organized structures and their characteristic scales, such as the structure wavelength, orientation, and aspect ratio, which closely agree with observations. A conditional-sampling analysis enables determination of the contribution of the coherent structures to the vertical exchange. Although they occupy a limited fractional area, organized structures are the primary contributors to the turbulent exchange.


Cold-air outbreak Large-eddy simulation Marine atmospheric boundary layer Turbulence organization 



Many people were involved in the realization of the aircraft mission of HyMeX-SOP2 and in the data processing. The aircraft was operated by the Service des Avions Français Instrumentés pour la Recherche en Environnement (SAFIRE). We also thank the TRAMM team from CNRM (Centre National de la Recherche Météorologique) at Météo-France for their help in computing the data. This work is a contribution to the HyMeX program (HYdrological cycle in the Mediterranean EXperiment, through the ASICS-MED project (Air–Sea Interaction and Coupling with Submesoscale structures in the MEDiterranean), ANR-12-BS06-0003). The authors acknowledge Météo-France for supplying the data and the HyMeX database teams (ESPRI/IPSL and SEDOO/Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées) for their help in accessing the data (accessible on We also gratefully thank C. Lac, F. Couvreux and T. Bergot for their help with the numerical simulations and M.-N. Bouin (CMM/CRNM) for providing us the buoy-derived bulk fluxes.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire d’Aérologie, CNRS, UPSUniversité de ToulouseToulouseFrance
  2. 2.CNRM UMR 3589, CNRSUniversité de Toulouse, Météo-FranceToulouseFrance

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