A Theory of the Lifted Temperature Minimum on Calm Clear Nights

A. S. Vasudeva Murthy, J. Srinivasan, R. Narasimha

Abstract

Numerous reports from several parts of the world have confirmed that on calm clear nights a minimum in air temperature can occur just above ground, at heights of the order of $\frac{1}{2}$ m or less. This phenomenon, first observed by Ramdas & Atmanathan (1932), carries the associated paradox of an apparently unstable layer that sustains itself for several hours, and has not so far been satisfactorily explained. We formulate here a theory that considers energy balance between radiation, conduction and free or forced convection in humid air, with surface temperature, humidity and wind incorporated into an appropriate mathematical model as parameters. A complete numerical solution of the coupled air-soil problem is used to validate an approach that specifies the surface temperature boundary condition through a cooling rate parameter. Utilizing a flux-emissivity scheme for computing radiative transfer, the model is numerically solved for various values of turbulent friction velocity. It is shown that a lifted minimum is predicted by the model for values of ground emissivity not too close to unity, and for sufficiently low surface cooling rates and eddy transport. Agreement with observation for reasonable values of the parameters is demonstrated. A heuristic argument is offered to show that radiation substantially increases the critical Rayleigh number for convection, thus circumventing or weakening Rayleigh-Benard instability. The model highlights the key role played by two parameters generally ignored in explanations of the phenomenon, namely surface emissivity and soil thermal conductivity, and shows that it is unnecessary to invoke the presence of such particulate constituents as haze to produce a lifted minimum.

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