Planetary boundary layer
The planetary boundary layer (PBL), also known as the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL), is the lowest part of the atmosphere
An atmosphere is a layer of gases that may surround a material body of sufficient mass, and that is held in place by the gravity of the body. An atmosphere may be retained for a longer duration, if the gravity is high and the atmosphere's temperature is low...

 and its behavior is directly influenced by its contact with a planetary surface. On Earth it usually responds to changes in surface forcing in an hour or less. In this layer physical quantities such as flow velocity, temperature, moisture etc., display rapid fluctuations (turbulence
In fluid dynamics, turbulence or turbulent flow is a flow regime characterized by chaotic and stochastic property changes. This includes low momentum diffusion, high momentum convection, and rapid variation of pressure and velocity in space and time...

) and vertical mixing is strong. Above the PBL is the "free atmosphere" where the wind is approximately geostrophic
A geostrophic current is an oceanic flow in which the pressure gradient force is balanced by the Coriolis force. The direction of geostrophic flow is parallel to the isobars, with the high pressure to the right of the flow in the Northern Hemisphere, and the high pressure to the left in the...

 (parallel to the isobars) while within the PBL the wind is affected by surface drag and turns across the isobars. The free atmosphere is usually nonturbulent, or only intermittently turbulent.

Cause of surface wind gradient

Typically, due to aerodynamic drag, there is a wind gradient in the wind flow just a few hundred meters above the Earth's surface—the surface layer
Surface layer
The surface layer is the layer of a turbulent fluid most affected by interaction with a solid surface or the surface separating a gas and a liquid where the characteristics of the turbulence depend on distance from the interface...

 of the planetary boundary layer. Wind speed increases with increasing height above the ground, starting from zero due to the no-slip condition
No-slip condition
In fluid dynamics, the no-slip condition for viscous fluids states that at a solid boundary, the fluid will have zero velocity relative to the boundary.The fluid velocity at all fluid–solid boundaries is equal to that of the solid boundary...

. Flow near the surface encounters obstacles that reduce the wind speed, and introduce random vertical and horizontal velocity components at right angles to the main direction of flow.
This turbulence
In fluid dynamics, turbulence or turbulent flow is a flow regime characterized by chaotic and stochastic property changes. This includes low momentum diffusion, high momentum convection, and rapid variation of pressure and velocity in space and time...

 causes vertical mixing
Mixing (physics)
In physics, a dynamical system is said to be mixing if the phase space of the system becomes strongly intertwined, according to at least one of several mathematical definitions. For example, a measure-preserving transformation T is said to be strong mixing ifwhenever A and B are any measurable...

 between the air moving horizontally at one level and the air at those levels immediately above and below it, which is important in dispersion of pollutants and in soil erosion.

The reduction in velocity near the surface is a function of surface roughness, so wind velocity profiles are quite different for different terrain types. Rough, irregular ground, and man-made obstructions on the ground, retard movement of the air near the surface, reducing wind velocity. Because of low surface roughness on the relatively smooth water surface, wind speeds do not increase as much with height above sea level as they do on land. Over a city or rough terrain, the wind gradient effect could cause a reduction of 40% to 50% of the geostrophic wind
Geostrophic wind
The geostrophic wind is the theoretical wind that would result from an exact balance between the Coriolis effect and the pressure gradient force. This condition is called geostrophic balance. The geostrophic wind is directed parallel to isobars . This balance seldom holds exactly in nature...

 speed aloft; while over open water or ice, the reduction may be only 20% to 30%. These effects are taken into account when siting wind turbine
Wind turbine
A wind turbine is a device that converts kinetic energy from the wind into mechanical energy. If the mechanical energy is used to produce electricity, the device may be called a wind generator or wind charger. If the mechanical energy is used to drive machinery, such as for grinding grain or...


For engineering
Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of...

 purposes, the wind gradient is modeled as a simple shear
Simple shear
In fluid mechanics, simple shear is a special case of deformation where only one component of velocity vectors has a non-zero value:\ V_x=f\ V_y=V_z=0And the gradient of velocity is constant and perpendicular to the velocity itself:...

 exhibiting a vertical velocity profile varying according to a power law
Power law
A power law is a special kind of mathematical relationship between two quantities. When the frequency of an event varies as a power of some attribute of that event , the frequency is said to follow a power law. For instance, the number of cities having a certain population size is found to vary...

 with a constant exponential coefficient based on surface type. The height above ground where surface friction has a negligible effect on wind speed is called the "gradient height" and the wind speed above this height is assumed to be a constant called the "gradient wind speed". For example, typical values for the predicted gradient height are 457 m for large cities, 366 m for suburbs, 274 m for open terrain, and 213 m for open sea.

Although the power law exponent approximation is convenient, it has no theoretical basis. When the temperature profile is adiabatic, the wind speed should vary logarithm
The logarithm of a number is the exponent by which another fixed value, the base, has to be raised to produce that number. For example, the logarithm of 1000 to base 10 is 3, because 1000 is 10 to the power 3: More generally, if x = by, then y is the logarithm of x to base b, and is written...

ically with height, Measurements over open terrain in 1961 showed good agreement with the logarithmic fit
Log wind profile
The Log wind profile is a semi-empirical relationship used to describe the vertical distribution of horizontal wind speeds above the ground within the atmospheric surface layer...

 up to 100 m or so (within the surface layer
Surface layer
The surface layer is the layer of a turbulent fluid most affected by interaction with a solid surface or the surface separating a gas and a liquid where the characteristics of the turbulence depend on distance from the interface...

), with near constant average wind speed up through 1000 m.

The shearing
Shearing (physics)
Shearing in continuum mechanics refers to the occurrence of a shear strain, which is a deformation of a material substance in which parallel internal surfaces slide past one another. It is induced by a shear stress in the material...

 of the wind is usually three-dimensional, that is, there is also a change in direction between the 'free' pressure-driven geostrophic wind and the wind close to the ground. This is related to the Ekman spiral
Ekman spiral
The Ekman spiral refers to a structure of currents or winds near a horizontal boundary in which the flow direction rotates as one moves away from the boundary. It derives its name from the Swedish oceanographer Vagn Walfrid Ekman...

The cross-isobar angle of the diverted ageostrophic flow near the surface ranges from 10° over open water, to 30° over rough hilly terrain, and can increase to 40°-50° over land at night when the wind speed is very low.

After sundown the wind gradient near the surface increases, with the increasing stability.
Atmospheric stability occurring at night with radiative cooling
Radiative cooling
Radiative cooling is the process by which a body loses heat by thermal radiation.- Earth's energy budget :In the case of the earth-atmosphere system it refers to the process by which long-wave radiation is emitted to balance the absorption of short-wave energy from the sun.The exact process by...

 tends to contain turbulent eddies vertically, increasing the wind gradient. The magnitude of the wind gradient is largely influenced by the height of the convective boundary layer and this effect is even larger over the sea, where there is no diurnal variation of the height of the boundary layer as there is over land.
In the convective boundary layer, strong mixing diminishes vertical wind gradient.

Layers within PBL

As Navier–Stokes equations suggest, the planetary boundary layer turbulence is produced in the layer with the largest velocity gradients that is at the very surface proximity. This layer – conventionally called a surface layer
Surface layer
The surface layer is the layer of a turbulent fluid most affected by interaction with a solid surface or the surface separating a gas and a liquid where the characteristics of the turbulence depend on distance from the interface...

 – constitutes about 10% of the total PBL depth. Above the surface layer the PBL turbulence gradually dissipates, losing its kinetic energy to friction as well as converting the kinetic to potential energy in a density stratified flow. The balance between the rate of the turbulent kinetic energy production and its dissipation determines the planetary boundary layer depth. The PBL depth varies broadly. At a given wind speed, e.g. 8 m/s, and so at a given rate of the turbulence production, a PBL in wintertime Arctic could be as shallow as 50 m, a nocturnal PBL in mid-latitudes could be typically 300 m in thickness, and a tropical PBL in the trade-wind zone could grow to its full theoretical depth of 2000 m.

In addition to the surface layer, the planetary boundary layer also comprises the PBL core (between 0.1 and 0.7 of the PBL depth) and the PBL top or entrainment layer or capping inversion layer (between 0.7 and 1 of the PBL depth). Four main external factors determine the PBL depth and its mean vertical structure:
  1. the free atmosphere wind speed;
  2. the surface heat (more exactly buoyancy) balance;
  3. the free atmosphere density stratification;
  4. the free atmosphere vertical wind shear or baroclinicity.

Principal types

Convective planetary boundary layer: (CBL, see also convection
Convection is the movement of molecules within fluids and rheids. It cannot take place in solids, since neither bulk current flows nor significant diffusion can take place in solids....

) is the PBL where positive buoyancy flux at the surface creates a thermal instability and thus generates additional or even major turbulence. The CBL is typical in tropical and mid-latitudes during daytime. Solar heating assisted by the heat released from the water vapor condensation could create so strong convective turbulence that the CBL comprises the entire troposphere up to 10 km to 18 km (Intertropical convergence zone
Intertropical Convergence Zone
The Intertropical Convergence Zone , known by sailors as The Doldrums, is the area encircling the earth near the equator where winds originating in the northern and southern hemispheres come together....

Stably stratified planetary boundary layer: (SBL) is the PBL where negative buoyancy flux at the surface damps the turbulence. The SBL is solely driven by the wind shear turbulence and hence the SBL cannot exist without the free atmosphere wind. The SBL is typical in nighttime at all locations and even in daytime in places where the Earth's surface is colder than the air above. The SBL plays a particularly important role in high latitudes where it is often prolonged (days to months), resulting in very cold air temperatures.

Physical laws and equations of motions, which govern the planetary boundary layer dynamics and microphysics, are strongly non-linear and considerably influenced by properties of the Earth's surface and evolution of the processes in the free atmosphere. To deal with this complicity, the whole array of turbulence modelling has been proposed. However, they are often not accurate enough to meet practical requests. Significant improvements are expected from application of a large eddy simulation
Large eddy simulation
Large eddy simulation is a mathematical model for turbulence used in computational fluid dynamics. It was initially proposed in 1963 by Joseph Smagorinsky to simulate atmospheric air currents, and many of the issues unique to LES were first explored by Deardorff...

 technique to problems related to the PBL.

Perhaps the most important processes, which are critically dependent on the correct representation of the PBL in the atmospheric models (Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project
Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project
Atmospheric Model Intercomparison Project is a standard experimental protocol for global atmospheric general circulation models . It provides a community-based infrastructure in support of climate model diagnosis, validation, intercomparison, documentation and data access...

), are turbulent transport of moisture (evapotranspiration
Evapotranspiration is a term used to describe the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the Earth's land surface to atmosphere. Evaporation accounts for the movement of water to the air from sources such as the soil, canopy interception, and waterbodies...

) and pollutants (air pollutants
Air pollution
Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals, particulate matter, or biological materials that cause harm or discomfort to humans or other living organisms, or cause damage to the natural environment or built environment, into the atmosphere....

). Cloud
A cloud is a visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals made of water and/or various chemicals suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of a planetary body. They are also known as aerosols. Clouds in Earth's atmosphere are studied in the cloud physics branch of meteorology...

s in the boundary layer influence trade wind
Trade wind
The trade winds are the prevailing pattern of easterly surface winds found in the tropics, within the lower portion of the Earth's atmosphere, in the lower section of the troposphere near the Earth's equator...

s, the hydrological cycle, and energy exchange.

See also

  • Boundary layer
    Boundary layer
    In physics and fluid mechanics, a boundary layer is that layer of fluid in the immediate vicinity of a bounding surface where effects of viscosity of the fluid are considered in detail. In the Earth's atmosphere, the planetary boundary layer is the air layer near the ground affected by diurnal...

  • Turbulence
    In fluid dynamics, turbulence or turbulent flow is a flow regime characterized by chaotic and stochastic property changes. This includes low momentum diffusion, high momentum convection, and rapid variation of pressure and velocity in space and time...

  • Wind shear
    Wind shear
    Wind shear, sometimes referred to as windshear or wind gradient, is a difference in wind speed and direction over a relatively short distance in the atmosphere...

  • Microburst
    A microburst is a very localized column of sinking air, producing damaging divergent and straight-line winds at the surface that are similar to, but distinguishable from, tornadoes, which generally have convergent damage. There are two types of microbursts: wet microbursts and dry microbursts...

  • Atmospheric physics
    Atmospheric physics
    Atmospheric physics is the application of physics to the study of the atmosphere. Atmospheric physicists attempt to model Earth's atmosphere and the atmospheres of the other planets using fluid flow equations, chemical models, radiation balancing, and energy transfer processes in the atmosphere...

  • Atmospheric sciences
    Atmospheric sciences
    Atmospheric sciences is an umbrella term for the study of the atmosphere, its processes, the effects other systems have on the atmosphere, and the effects of the atmosphere on these other systems. Meteorology includes atmospheric chemistry and atmospheric physics with a major focus on weather...

  • Atmospheric electricity
    Atmospheric electricity
    Atmospheric electricity is the regular diurnal variations of the Earth's atmospheric electromagnetic network . The Earth's surface, the ionosphere, and the atmosphere is known as the global atmospheric electrical circuit...

  • Mixed layer
    Mixed layer
    The oceanic or limnological mixed layer is a layer in which active turbulence has homogenized some range of depths. The surface mixed layer is a layer where this turbulence is generated by winds, cooling, or processes such as evaporation or sea ice formation which result in an increase in salinity...

External links

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