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https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2020-361
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-2020-361
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  04 May 2020

04 May 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Reappraising the appropriate calculation of a common meteorological quantity: Potential Temperature

Manuel Baumgartner1,2, Ralf Weigel2, Ulrich Achatz4, Allan H. Harvey3, and Peter Spichtinger2 Manuel Baumgartner et al.
  • 1Zentrum für Datenverarbeitung, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany
  • 2Institute for Atmospheric Physics, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany
  • 3Applied Chemicals and Materials Division, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Boulder, CO, USA
  • 4Institut für Atmosphäre und Umwelt, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Abstract. The potential temperature is a widely used quantity in atmospheric science since it is conserved for air's adiabatic changes of state. Its definition involves the specific heat capacity of dry air, which is traditionally assumed as constant. However, the literature provides different values of this allegedly constant parameter, which are reviewed and discussed in this study. Furthermore, we derive the potential temperature for a temperature-dependent parameterization of the specific heat capacity of dry air, thus providing a new reference potential temperature with a more rigorous basis. This new reference shows different values and vertical gradients in the upper troposphere and the stratosphere compared to the potential temperature that assumes constant heat capacity. The application of the new reference potential temperature to the prediction of gravity wave breaking altitudes reveals that the predicted wave breaking height may depend on the definition of the potential temperature used.

Manuel Baumgartner et al.

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Manuel Baumgartner et al.

Manuel Baumgartner et al.

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Short summary
The potential temperature is routinely used in atmospheric science. We review its derivation and suggest a new potential temperature, based on a temperature dependent parameterization of the dry air's specific heat capacity. Moreover, we compare the new potential temperature to the common one and discuss the differences which become more important at higher altitudes. Finally, we indicate some consequences of using the new potential temperature.
The potential temperature is routinely used in atmospheric science. We review its derivation and...
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