The importance of vertical resolution in the free troposphere for modeling intercontinental plumes

Zhuang, Jiawei; Jacob, Daniel J.; Eastham, Sebastian D.

Chemical plumes in the free troposphere can preserve their identity for more than a week as they are transported on intercontinental scales. Current global models cannot reproduce this transport. The plumes dilute far too rapidly due to numerical diffusion in sheared flow. We show how model accuracy can be limited by either horizontal resolution (inline-formulaΔx) or vertical resolution (inline-formulaΔz). Balancing horizontal and vertical numerical diffusion, and weighing computational cost, implies an optimal grid resolution ratio (inline-formulaΔxinline-formula∕inline-formulaΔz)inline-formulaoptinline-formula∼ 1000 for simulating the plumes. This is considerably higher than current global models (inline-formulaΔxinline-formula∕inline-formulaΔzinline-formula∼ 20) and explains the rapid plume dilution in the models as caused by insufficient vertical resolution. Plume simulations with the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Finite-Volume Cubed-Sphere Dynamical Core (GFDL-FV3) over a range of horizontal and vertical grid resolutions confirm this limiting behavior. Our highest-resolution simulation (inline-formulaΔxinline-formula≈ 25 km, inline-formulaΔzinline-formula≈ 80 m) preserves the maximum mixing ratio in the plume to within 35 % after 8 days in strongly sheared flow, a drastic improvement over current models. Adding free tropospheric vertical levels in global models is computationally inexpensive and would also improve the simulation of water vapor.

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Zhuang, Jiawei / Jacob, Daniel J. / Eastham, Sebastian D.: The importance of vertical resolution in the free troposphere for modeling intercontinental plumes. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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