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Annales Geophysicae An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 22, issue 11
Ann. Geophys., 22, 3937–3950, 2004
© Author(s) 2004. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Special issue: 10th International Workshop on Technical and Scientific Aspects...

Ann. Geophys., 22, 3937–3950, 2004
© Author(s) 2004. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  29 Nov 2004

29 Nov 2004

An observational study of a shallow gravity current triggered by katabatic flow

A. Adachi1,2, W. L. Clark2,3, L. M. Hartten2,3, K. S. Gage2, and T. Kobayashi1 A. Adachi et al.
  • 1Meteorological Research Institute, Nagamine 1-1, Tsukuba, Japan
  • 2NOAA Aeronomy Laboratory, 325 Broadway, Boulder, Colorado, USA
  • 3Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA

Abstract. Observations from a wind profiler and a meteorological tower are utilized to study the evolution of a gravity current that passed over the Meteorological Research Institute's (MRI) field site in Tsukuba, Japan. The gravity current was created by katabatic flow originating on the mountainous slopes west of the field site. The passage of the shallow current was marked by a pronounced pressure disturbance and was accompanied by vertical circulations seen in the tower and profiler data. Direct vertical-beam measurements are difficult, especially at low heights during high-gradient events like density currents. In this study vertical velocities from the profiler are derived from the four oblique beams by use of the Minimizing the Variance of the Differences (MVD) method. The vertical velocities derived from the MVD method agree well with in situ vertical velocities measured by a sonic anemometer on the tower.

The gravity current is analyzed with surface observations, the wind profiler/RASS and tower-mounted instruments. Observations from the profiler/RASS and the tower-mounted instruments illustrate the structure of the gravity current in both wind and temperature fields. The profiler data reveal that there were three regions of waves in the vertical velocity field: lee-type waves, a solitary wave and Kelvin-Helmholtz waves. The lee-type waves in the head region of the gravity current seem to have been generated by the gravity current acting as an obstacle to prefrontal flow. The solitary wave was formed from the elevated head of the gravity current that separated from the feeder flow. Profiler vertical-motion observations resolve this wave and enable us to classify it as a Benjamin-Davis-Ono (BDO) type solitary wave. The ducting mechanism that enabled the solitary wave to propagate is also revealed from the wind profiler/RASS measurements. The combination of high-resolution instruments at the MRI site allow us to develop a uniquely detailed picture of a shallow gravity current structure.

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