Air-sea exchange in hurricanes: Synthesis of observations from the coupled boundary layer air-sea transfer experiment

Peter G. Black, Eric A. D'Asaro, William M. Drennan, Jeffrey R. French, Pearn P. Niiler, Thomas B. Sanford, Eric J. Terrill, Edward J. Walsh, Jun A. Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

384 Scopus citations


The Coupled Boundary Layer Air-Sea Transfer (CBLAST) field program, conducted from 2002 to 2004, has provided a wealth of new air-sea interaction observations in hurricanes. The wind speed range for which turbulent momentum and moisture exchange coefficients have been derived based upon direct flux measurements has been extended by 30% and 60%, respectively, from airborne observations in Hurricanes Fabian and Isabel in 2003. The drag coefficient (CD) values derived from CBLAST momentum flux measurements show CD becoming invariant with wind speed near a 23 m s-1 threshold rather than a hurricane-force threshold near 33 m s-1. Values above 23 m s-1 are lower than previous open-ocean measurements. The Dalton number estimates (CE) derived from CBLAST moisture flux measurements are shown to be invariant with wind speeds up to 30 m s-1, which is in approximate agreement with previous measurements at lower winds. These observations imply a CE/CD ratio of approximately 0.7, suggesting that additional energy sources are necessary for hurricanes to achieve their maximum potential intensity. One such additional mechanism for augmented moisture flux in the boundary layer might be "roll vortex" or linear coherent features, observed by CBLAST 2002 measurements to have wavelengths of 0.9-1.2 km. Linear features of the same wavelength range were observed in nearly concurrent RADARSAT Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery. As a complement to the aircraft measurement program, arrays of drifting buoys and subsurface floats were successfully deployed ahead of Hurricanes Fabian (2003) and Frances (2004) [16 (6) and 38 (14) drifters (floats), respectively, in the two storms]. An unprecedented set of observations was obtained, providing a four-dimensional view of the ocean response to a hurricane for the first time ever. Two types of surface drifters and three types of floats provided observations of surface and sub-surface oceanic currents, temperature, salinity, gas exchange, bubble concentrations, and surface wave spectra to a depth of 200 m on a continuous basis before, during, and after storm passage, as well as surface atmospheric observations of wind speed (via acoustic hydrophone) and direction, rain rate, and pressure. Float observations in Frances (2004) indicated a deepening of the mixed layer from 40 to 120 m in approximately 8 h, with a corresponding decrease in SST in the right-rear quadrant of 3.2°C in 11 h, roughly one-third of an inertial period. Strong inertial currents with a peak amplitude of 1.5 m s-1 were observed. Vertical structure showed that the critical Richardson number was reached sporadically during the mixed-layer deepening event, suggesting shear-induced mixing as a prominent mechanism during storm passage. Peak significant waves of 11 m were observed from the floats to complement the aircraft-measured directional wave spectra.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-374
Number of pages18
JournalBulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Air-sea exchange in hurricanes: Synthesis of observations from the coupled boundary layer air-sea transfer experiment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this