Isolating the role of surface evapotranspiration on moist convection along the eastern flanks of the tropical Andes using a quasi-idealized approach

Xiaoming Sun, Ana P. Barros

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The contribution of surface evapotranspiration (ET) to moist convection, cloudiness, and precipitation along the eastern flanks of the tropical Andes (EADS) was investigated using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model with nested simulations of selected weather conditions down to 1.2-km grid spacing. To isolate the role of surface ET, numerical experiments were conducted using a quasi-idealized approach whereby, at every time step, the surface sensible heat effects are exactly the same as in the reference simulations, whereas the surface latent heat fluxes are prevented from entering the atmosphere. Energy balance analysis indicates that surface ET influences moist convection primarily through its impact on conditional instability, because it acts as an important source of moist entropy in this region. The energy available for convection decreases by up to approximately 60% when the ET contribution is withdrawn. In contrast, when convective motion is not thermally driven or under conditionally stable conditions, the role of latent heating from the land surface becomes secondary. At the scale of the Andes proper, removal of surface ET weakens upslope flows by increasing static stability of the lower troposphere, as the vertical gradient of water vapor mixing ratio tends to be less negative. Consequently, moisture convergence is reduced over the EADS. In the absence of surface ET, this process operates in concert with damped convective energy, suppressing cloudiness and decreasing daily precipitation by up to around 50% in the simulations presented here.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-261
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Volume72
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Atmosphere-land interaction
  • Convection
  • Evapotranspiration
  • Mesoscale models
  • Mesoscale processes
  • Orographic effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science

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