Mesoscale shallow convection in the atmosphere

  • Atkinson B
  • Zhang J
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This paper is a review of the observational, experimental, theoretical, and numerical studies of mesoscale shallow convection ({MSC)} in the atmosphere. Typically, {MSC} is 1 to 2 km deep, has a horizontal length scale of a few to a few tens of kilometers, and takes distinctive planforms: linear and hexagonal. The former is called a cloud street, roll, or band, while the latter is called mesoscale cellular convection ({MCC)}, comprising three-dimensional cells. {MSC} is characterized by its shape, horizontal extent, convective depth, and aspect ratio. The latter is the ratio of the horizontal extent to that in the vertical. For cells the horizontal extent is their diameter, whereas for rolls it is their spacing. Rolls usually align along or at angles of up to 10° from the mean horizontal wind of the convective layer, with lengths from 20 to 200 km, widths from 2 to 10 km, and convective depths from 2 to 3 km. The typical value of aspect ratio ranges from 2 to 20. Rolls may occur over both water surface and land surfaces. Mesoscale convective cells may be divided into two types: open and closed. Open-cell circulation has downward motion and clear sky in the cell center, surrounded by cloud associated with upward motion. Closed cells have the opposite circulation. Both types of cell have diameters ranging from 10 to 40 km and aspect ratios of 5 to 50, and both occur in a convective layer with a depth of about 1 to 3 km. Both the magnitude and direction of horizontal wind in the convective layer change little with height. {MSC} results from a complex and incompletely understood mix of processes. These processes are outlined, and their interplay is examined through a review of theoretical and laboratory analyses and numerical modeling of {MSC.}

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  • B. W. Atkinson

  • J. Wu Zhang

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