Articles | Volume 9, issue 14
27 Jul 2009
 | 27 Jul 2009

Reinterpreting aircraft measurements in anisotropic scaling turbulence

S. Lovejoy, A. F. Tuck, D. Schertzer, and S. J. Hovde

Abstract. Due to both systematic and turbulent induced vertical fluctuations, the interpretation of atmospheric aircraft measurements requires a theory of turbulence. Until now virtually all the relevant theories have been isotropic or "quasi isotropic" in the sense that their exponents are the same in all directions. However almost all the available data on the vertical structure shows that it is scaling but with exponents different from the horizontal: the turbulence is scaling but anisotropic. In this paper, we show how such turbulence can lead to spurious breaks in the scaling and to the spurious appearance of the vertical scaling exponent at large horizontal lags.

We demonstrate this using 16 legs of Gulfstream 4 aircraft near the top of the troposphere following isobars each between 500 and 3200 km in length. First we show that over wide ranges of scale, the horizontal spectra of the aircraft altitude are nearly k-5/3. In addition, we show that the altitude and pressure fluctuations along these fractal trajectories have a high degree of coherence with the measured wind (especially with its longitudinal component). There is also a strong phase relation between the altitude, pressure and wind fluctuations; for scales less than ≈40 km (on average) the wind fluctuations lead the pressure and altitude, whereas for larger scales, the pressure fluctuations leads the wind. At the same transition scale, there is a break in the wind spectrum which we argue is caused by the aircraft starting to accurately follow isobars at the larger scales. In comparison, the temperature and humidity have low coherencies and phases and there are no apparent scale breaks, reinforcing the hypothesis that it is the aircraft trajectory that is causally linked to the scale breaks in the wind measurements.

Using spectra and structure functions for the wind, we then estimate their exponents (β, H) at small (5/3, 1/3) and large scales (2.4, 0.73). The latter being very close to those estimated by drop sondes (2.4, 0.75) in the vertical direction. In addition, for each leg we estimate the energy flux, the sphero-scale and the critical transition scale. The latter varies quite widely from scales of kilometers to greater than several hundred kilometers. The overall conclusion is that up to the critical scale, the aircraft follows a fractal trajectory which may increase the intermittency of the measurements, but doesn't strongly affect the scaling exponents whereas for scales larger than the critical scale, the aircraft follows isobars whose exponents are different from those along isoheights (and equal to the vertical exponent perpendicular to the isoheights). We bolster this interpretation by considering the absolute slopes (|Δzx|) of the aircraft as a function of lag Δx and of scale invariant lag Δxz1/Hz.

We then revisit four earlier aircraft campaigns including GASP and MOZAIC showing that they all have nearly identical transitions and can thus be easily explained by the proposed combination of altitude/wind in an anisotropic but scaling turbulence. Finally, we argue that this reinterpretation in terms of wide range anisotropic scaling is compatible with atmospheric phenomenology including convection.

Final-revised paper