A Novel Method to Quantify Near-Surface Boundary-Layer Dynamics at Ultra-High Spatio-Temporal Resolution

Boundary Layer Meteorol. 2023;186(2):177-197. doi: 10.1007/s10546-022-00752-3. Epub 2022 Nov 19.


The lateral transport of heat above abrupt (sub-)metre-scale steps in land surface temperature influences the local surface energy balance. We present a novel experimental method to investigate the stratification and dynamics of the near-surface atmospheric layer over a heterogeneous land surface. Using a high-resolution thermal infrared camera pointing at synthetic screens, a 30 Hz sequence of frames is recorded. The screens are deployed upright and horizontally aligned with the prevailing wind direction. The screen's surface temperature serves as a proxy for the local air temperature. We developed a method to estimate near-surface two-dimensional wind fields at centimetre resolution from tracking the air temperature pattern on the screens. Wind field estimations are validated with near-surface three-dimensional short-path ultrasonic data. To demonstrate the capabilities of the screen method, we present results from a comprehensive field campaign at an alpine research site during patchy snow cover conditions. The measurements reveal an extremely heterogeneous near-surface atmospheric layer. Vertical profiles of horizontal and vertical wind reflect multiple layers of different static stability within 2 m above the surface. A dynamic, thin stable internal boundary layer (SIBL) develops above the leading edge of snow patches protecting the snow surface from warmer air above. During pronounced gusts, the warm air from aloft entrains into the SIBL and reaches down to the snow surface adding energy to the snow pack. Measured vertical turbulent sensible heat fluxes are shown to be consistent with air temperature and wind profiles obtained using the screen method and confirm its capabilities to investigate complex in situ near-surface heat exchange processes.

Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s10546-022-00752-3.

Keywords: Infrared thermography; Patchy snow cover; Snow melt; Surface–atmosphere interaction; Two-dimensional atmospheric measurements.