Journal cover Journal topic
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 9631-9641, 2011
© Author(s) 2011. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
16 Sep 2011
Using boundary layer equilibrium to reduce uncertainties in transport models and CO2 flux inversions
I. N. Williams1, W. J. Riley2, M. S. Torn2, J. A. Berry3, and S. C. Biraud2 1Department of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
2Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Earth Sciences Division, Berkeley, CA, USA
3Carnegie Institution of Washington, Stanford, CA, USA
Abstract. This paper reexamines evidence for systematic errors in atmospheric transport models, in terms of the diagnostics used to infer vertical mixing rates from models and observations. Different diagnostics support different conclusions about transport model errors that could imply either stronger or weaker northern terrestrial carbon sinks. Conventional mixing diagnostics are compared to analyzed vertical mixing rates using data from the US Southern Great Plains Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility, the CarbonTracker data assimilation system based on Transport Model version 5 (TM5), and atmospheric reanalyses. The results demonstrate that diagnostics based on boundary layer depth and vertical concentration gradients do not always indicate the vertical mixing strength. Vertical mixing rates are anti-correlated with boundary layer depth at some sites, diminishing in summer when the boundary layer is deepest. Boundary layer equilibrium concepts predict an inverse proportionality between CO2 vertical gradients and vertical mixing strength, such that previously reported discrepancies between observations and models most likely reflect overestimated as opposed to underestimated vertical mixing. However, errors in seasonal concentration gradients can also result from errors in modeled surface fluxes. This study proposes using the timescale for approach to boundary layer equilibrium to diagnose vertical mixing independently of seasonal surface fluxes, with applications to observations and model simulations of CO2 or other conserved boundary layer tracers with surface sources and sinks. Results indicate that frequently cited discrepancies between observations and inverse estimates do not provide sufficient proof of systematic errors in atmospheric transport models. Some previously hypothesized transport model biases, if found and corrected, could cause inverse estimates to further diverge from carbon inventory estimates of terrestrial sinks.

Citation: Williams, I. N., Riley, W. J., Torn, M. S., Berry, J. A., and Biraud, S. C.: Using boundary layer equilibrium to reduce uncertainties in transport models and CO2 flux inversions, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 11, 9631-9641,, 2011.
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