The advection of high-resolution tracers by low-resolution winds
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1175/1520-0469(1999)056<3262:TAOHRT>2.0.CO;2
The usefulness of any simulation of atmospheric tracers using low-resolution winds relies on both the dominance of large spatial scales in the strain and time dependence that results in a cascade in tracer scales. Here, a quantitative study on the accuracy of such tracer studies is made using the contour advection technique. It is shown that, although contour stretching rates are very insensitive to the spatial truncation of the wind field, the displacement errors in filament position are sensitive. A knowledge of displacement characteristics is essential if Lagrangian simulations are to be used for the inference of airmass origin. A quantitative lower estimate is obtained for the tracer scale factor (TSF): the ratio of the smallest resolved scale in the advecting wind field to the smallest “trustworthy” scale in the tracer field. For a baroclinic wave life cycle the TSF = 6.1 ± 0.3 while for the Northern Hemisphere wintertime lower stratosphere the TSF = 5.5 ± 0.5, when using the most stringent definition of the trustworthy scale. The similarity in the TSF for the two flows is striking and an explanation is discussed in terms of the activity of potential vorticity (PV) filaments. Uncertainty in contour initialization is investigated for the stratospheric case. The effect of smoothing initial contours is to introduce a spinup time, after which wind field truncation errors take over from initialization errors (2–3 days). It is also shown that false detail from the proliferation of finescale filaments limits the useful lifetime of such contour advection simulations to 3σ−1 days, where σ is the filament thinning rate, unless filaments narrower than the trustworthy scale are removed by contour surgery. In addition, PV analysis error and diabatic effects are so strong that only PV filaments wider than 50 km are at all believable, even for very high-resolution winds. The minimum wind field resolution required to accurately simulate filaments down to the erosion scale in the stratosphere (given an initial contour) is estimated and the implications for the modeling of atmospheric chemistry are briefly discussed.