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Nocturnal Near-Surface Temperature, but not Flow Dynamics, can be Predicted by Microtopography in a Mid-Range Mountain Valley

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Created: Dec 29, 2017 at 11:02 p.m.
Last updated: Apr 09, 2018 at 8:47 p.m.
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We investigate nocturnal flow dynamics and temperature behaviour near the surface of a 170-m long gentle slope in a mid-range mountain valley. In contrast to many existing studies focusing on locations with significant topographic variations, gentle slopes cover a greater spatial extent of the Earth’s surface. Air temperatures were measured using the high-resolution distributed-temperature-sensing method within a two-dimensional fibre-optic array in the lowest metre above the surface. The main objectives are to characterize the spatio-temporal patterns in the near-surface temperature and flow dynamics, and quantify their responses to the microtopography and land cover. For the duration of the experiment, including even clear-sky nights with weak winds and strong radiative forcing, the classical cold-air drainage predicted by theory could not be detected. In contrast, we show that the airflow for the two dominant flow modes originates non-locally. The most abundant flow mode is characterized by vertically-decoupled layers featuring a near-surface flow perpendicular to the slope and strong stable stratification, which contradicts the expectation of a gravity-driven downslope flow of locally produced cold air. Differences in microtopography and land cover clearly affect spatio-temporal temperature perturbations. The second most abundant flow mode is characterized by strong mixing, leading to vertical coupling with airflow directed down the local slope. Here variations of microtopography and land cover lead to negligible near-surface temperature perturbations. We conclude that spatio-temporal temperature perturbations, but not flow dynamics, can be predicted by microtopography, which complicates the prediction of advective-heat components and the existence and dynamics of cold-air pools in gently sloped terrain in the absence of observations.

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Pfister, L. (2018). Nocturnal Near-Surface Temperature, but not Flow Dynamics, can be Predicted by Microtopography in a Mid-Range Mountain Valley, HydroShare,

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