Boundary-Layer Meteorology

, Volume 125, Issue 2, pp 227–244 | Cite as

The effect of mountainous topography on moisture exchange between the “surface” and the free atmosphere

  • Andreas P. Weigel
  • Fotini K. Chow
  • Mathias W. Rotach
Original Paper


Typical numerical weather and climate prediction models apply parameterizations to describe the subgrid-scale exchange of moisture, heat and momentum between the surface and the free atmosphere. To a large degree, the underlying assumptions are based on empirical knowledge obtained from measurements in the atmospheric boundary layer over flat and homogeneous topography. It is, however, still unclear what happens if the topography is complex and steep. Not only is the applicability of classical turbulence schemes questionable in principle over such terrain, but mountains additionally induce vertical fluxes on the meso-γ scale. Examples are thermally or mechanically driven valley winds, which are neither resolved nor parameterized by climate models but nevertheless contribute to vertical exchange. Attempts to quantify these processes and to evaluate their impact on climate simulations have so far been scarce. Here, results from a case study in the Riviera Valley in southern Switzerland are presented. In previous work, measurements from the MAP-Riviera field campaign have been used to evaluate and configure a high-resolution large-eddy simulation code (ARPS). This model is here applied with a horizontal grid spacing of 350 m to detect and quantify the relevant exchange processes between the valley atmosphere (i.e. the ground “surface” in a coarse model) and the free atmosphere aloft. As an example, vertical export of moisture is evaluated for three fair-weather summer days. The simulations show that moisture exchange with the free atmosphere is indeed no longer governed by turbulent motions alone. Other mechanisms become important, such as mass export due to topographic narrowing or the interaction of thermally driven cross-valley circulations. Under certain atmospheric conditions, these topographical-related mechanisms exceed the “classical” turbulent contributions a coarse model would see by several times. The study shows that conventional subgrid-scale parameterizations can indeed be far off from reality if applied over complex topography, and that large-eddy simulations could provide a helpful tool for their improvement.


Large-eddy simulations Moisture fluxes Mountain meteorology Surface exchange 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andreas P. Weigel
    • 1
  • Fotini K. Chow
    • 2
  • Mathias W. Rotach
    • 1
  1. 1.Federal Office of Meteorology and ClimatologyMeteoSwissZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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