Wintertime Stable Boundary-Layer Processes in Alpine Valleys
Alpine valleys are rarely closed systems, implying that the atmospheric boundary layer of a particular valley section is influenced by the surrounding terrain and large-scale flows. A detailed characterisation and quantification of these effects is required in order to design appropriate parameterisation schemes for complex terrains. The focus of this work is to improve the understanding of the effects of surrounding terrain (plains, valleys or tributaries) on the heat and mass budgets of the stable boundary layer of a valley section, under dry and weak large-scale wind conditions. Numerical simulations using idealised and real frameworks are performed to meet this goal. Several idealised terrains (configurations) were considered: an infinitely long valley (i.e. two-dimensional), and upstream valleys opening either on a plain (valley-plain), on a wider valley (draining) or on a narrower valley (pooling). In three-dimensional valleys, two main regimes can be identified for all configurations: a transient regime, before the down-valley flow develops, followed by a quasi-steady regime, when the down-valley flow is fully developed. The presence of a downstream valley reduces the along-valley temperature difference, therefore leading to weaker down-valley flows. As a result, the duration of the transient regime increases compared to the respective valley-plain configuration. Its duration is longest for the pooling configuration. For strong pooling the along-valley temperature difference can reverse, forcing up-valley flows from the narrower towards the wider valley. In this regime, the average cooling rate at the valley-scale is found to be a maximum and its magnitude is dependent on the configuration considered. Therefore pooling and draining induce colder and deeper boundary layers than the respective valley-plain configurations. In the quasisteady regime the cooling rate is smaller than during the transient regime, and almost independent of the configuration considered. Indeed, as the pooling character is more pronounced, the warming contribution from advection to the heat budget decreases because of weaker down-valley flows, and so does the cooling contribution from the surface sensible heat flux. The mass budget of the valley boundary layer was found to be controlled by a balance between the convergence of downslope flows at the top of the boundary layer and the divergence of the down-valley flow along the valley axis, with negligible contributions of subsidence far from the valley sidewalls. The mass budget highlighted the importance of the return current above the down-valley flow, which may contribute significantly to the inflow of air at the top of the boundary layer. A case-study of a persistent cold-air pool event which occurred in February 2015 in the Arve River Valley during the intensive observation period 1 (IOP1) of the PASSY- 2015 field campaign, allowed us to quantify the effects of neighbouring valleys on the heat and mass budgets of a real valley atmosphere. The cold-air pool persisted as a result of warm air advection at the valley top, associated with the passage of an upper-level ridge over Europe. The contributions from each tributary valley to the mass and heat budgets of the valley atmosphere were found to vary from day to day within the persistent stage of the cold-air pool, depending on the large-scale flow. Tributary flows had significant impact on the height of the inversion layer and the strength of the cold-air pool, transporting a significant amount of mass within the valley atmosphere throughout the night. The strong stratification of the near-surface atmosphere prevented the tributary flows from penetrating down to the valley floor. The evolution of the large-scale flow during the episode had a profound impact on the near-surface circulation of the valley. The channelling of the large-scale flow at night, can lead to the decrease of the horizontal temperature difference driving the near-surface down-valley flow, favouring the stagnation of the air close to the ground.