Articles | Volume 14, issue 6
Research article
28 Mar 2014
Research article |  | 28 Mar 2014

Tropical deep convection and density current signature in surface pressure: comparison between WRF model simulations and infrasound measurements

L. Costantino and P. Heinrich

Abstract. Deep convection is a major atmospheric transport process in the tropics, affecting the global weather and the climate system. In the framework of the ARISE (Atmospheric dynamics Research InfraStructure in Europe) project, we combine model simulations of tropical deep convection with in situ ground measurements from an IMS (International Monitoring System) infrasound station in the Ivory Coast to analyze the effects of density current propagation. The WRF (Weather Research and Forecasting) model is firstly run in a simplified (referred to as "idealized case") and highly resolved configuration to explicitly account for convective dynamics. Then, a coarser three-dimensional simulation (referred to as "real") is nudged towards meteorological reanalysis data in order to compare the real case with the idealized model and in situ observations.

In the 2-D run, the evolution of a deep convective cloud generates a density current that moves outward up to 30 km away from storm center. The increase in surface density (up to 18 g m−3 larger than surrounding air) is mostly due to the sudden temperature decrease (down to −2 °C, with respect to the domain-averaged value) from diabatic cooling by rain evaporation near ground level. It is accompanied by a dramatic decrease in relative humidity (down to −50%), buoyancy (down to −0.08 m s−2), equivalent potential temperature (25 °C lower than the planetary boundary layer (PBL)) and the rapid enhancement of horizontal wind speed (up to 15 m s−2). If temperature and density changes are strong enough, surface pressure becomes largely affected and high-frequency disturbances (up to several tens of Pa) can be detected at the leading edges of density current. The moister and warmer air of subcloud layer is lifted up and replaced by a more stable flow. The resulting thermodynamical instabilities are shown to play a key role in triggering new convection. If the initial environment is sufficiently unstable, they can give rise to continuous updrafts that may lead to the transition from single-cell to multicell cloud systems, even without the presence of an initial wind shear.

The overall consistence and similarity between idealized and real simulation, and the good agreement of the real case with in situ retrievals of temperature, pressure, wind speed and direction, seem to confirm the ability of 2-D and 3-D models to well reproduce convective dynamics. Surface pressure disturbances, simulated in both the idealized and real cases as a consequence of cold pool propagation, are very similar to those recorded in the Ivory Coast. Present results stress the direct link between mesoscale convective system activity and high-frequency surface pressure variations, suggesting the possibility of developing a new method for real-time rainstorm tracking based on the ground-based infrasound monitoring of pressure field.

Final-revised paper