A framework for simulating the tropical cyclone boundary layer using large-eddy simulation and its use in evaluating PBL parameterizations

Xiaomin Chen, George H. Bryan, Jun A. Zhang, Joseph J. Cione, Frank D. Marks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Boundary layer turbulent processes affect tropical cyclone (TC) structure and intensity change. However, uncertainties in the parameterization of the planetary boundary layer (PBL) under high-wind conditions remain challenging, mostly due to limited observations. This study presents and evaluates a framework of numerical simulation that can be used for a small-domain [O(5)-km] large-eddy simulation (LES) and single-column modeling (SCM) to study the TC boundary layer. The framework builds upon a previous study that uses a few input parameters to represent the TC vortex and adds a simple nudging term for temperature and moisture to account for the complex thermodynamic processes in TCs. The reference thermodynamic profiles at different wind speeds are retrieved from a composite analysis of dropsonde observations of mature hurricanes. Results from LES show that most of the turbulence kinetic energy and vertical momentum flux is associated with resolved processes when horizontal grid spacing is O(10) m. Comparison to observations of turbulence variables such as momentum flux, effective eddy viscosity, and turbulence length scale show that LES produces reasonable results but highlight areas where further observations are necessary. LES results also demonstrate that compared to a classic Ekman-type boundary layer, the TC boundary layer is shallower, develops steady conditions much quicker, and exhibits stronger wind speed near the surface. The utility of this framework is further highlighted by evaluating a first-order PBL parameterization, suggesting that an asymptotic turbulence length scale of 40 m produces a good match to LES results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3559-3574
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Boundary layer
  • Hurricanes/typhoons
  • Large eddy simulations
  • Numerical analysis/modeling
  • Parameterization
  • Single column models
  • Subgrid-scale processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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