Response of Moist Convection to the Spectral Feature of the Surface Flux Field at Model Resolution Across the Gray Zone

Jung Hee Ryu, Song Lak Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Weather Research and Forecasting model is run at the effective resolution Δf across the gray zone, or the “terra incognita”, at which Δf ∼ l, where l is the scale of energy-containing turbulent eddies. We examine the developments of afternoon moist convection over different multiscale features of the surface flux field as a function of the model grid spacing Δ that varies from 100 m to 1 km. Numerical experiments demonstrate that the model performs better under heterogeneous than homogeneous surface conditions in the gray zone in terms of the spatial distribution of moist convection. This improved performance is due to the explicit resolvability of the mesoscale temperature and humidity perturbations, which are critical for the growth of deep moist convection over the heterogeneous surface condition. However, under both heterogeneous and homogeneous surface conditions, the timing and intensity of moist convection vary with the model resolution. Compared with that in the large eddy simulation at Δ = 100 m, the earlier onset of moist convection at coarser resolutions appears to be related to the overestimated total buoyancy fluxes and total kinetic energy near the surface. That is, the more intense vertical mixing near the surface might induce a warmer surface layer, which yields individual cell updrafts strong enough to penetrate the capping inversion. In addition, misrepresentation of the diluting effects of entrainment on the penetrating updrafts in coarser-resolution simulations could be responsible for the rapid development of deep convection instead of a gradual transition from shallow to deep moist convection.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021JD035869
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 16 2022


  • afternoon moist convection
  • gray zone
  • mesoscale heterogeneity
  • surface flux field
  • terra incognita


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