A ship-based characterization of coherent boundary-layer structures over the lifecycle of a marine cold-air outbreak

Christiane Duscha, Christopher Barrell, Ian A. Renfrew, Ian M. Brooks, Harald Sodemann, Jocahim Reuder

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Convective coherent structures shape the atmospheric boundary layer over the lifecycle of marine cold-air outbreaks (CAOs). Aircraft measurements have been used to characterize such structures in past CAOs. Yet, aircraft case studies are limited to snapshots of a few hours and do not capture how coherent structures, and the associated boundary-layer characteristics, change over the CAO time scale, which can be on the order of several days. We present a novel ship-based approach to determine the evolution of the coherent-structure characteristics, based on profiling lidar observations. Over the lifecycle of a multi-day CAO we show how these structures interact with boundary-layer characteristics, simultaneously obtained by a multi-sensor set-up. Observations are taken during the Iceland Greenland Seas Project’s wintertime cruise in February and March 2018. For the evaluated CAO event, we successfully identify cellular coherent structures of varying size in the order of 4 × 102 m to 104 m and velocity amplitudes of up to 0.5 m s−1 in the vertical and 1 m s−1 in the horizontal. The structures’ characteristics are sensitive to the near-surface stability and the Richardson number. We observe the largest coherent structures most frequently for conditions when turbulence generation is weakly buoyancy dominated. Structures of increasing size contribute efficiently to the overturning of the boundary layer and are linked to the growth of the convective boundary-layer depth. The new approach provides robust statistics for organized convection, which would be easy to extend by additional observations during convective events from vessels of opportunity operating in relevant areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355–380
Number of pages26
JournalBoundary-Layer Meteorology
Issue number3
Early online date24 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • Cold-air outbreak
  • Convective coherent structures
  • Iceland–Greenland sea
  • Lidar wind profiling

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