Articles | Volume 4, issue 5
Research article
04 May 2011
Research article |  | 04 May 2011

Can one detect small-scale turbulence from standard meteorological radiosondes?

R. Wilson, F. Dalaudier, and H. Luce

Abstract. It has been recently proposed by Clayson and Kantha (2008) to evaluate the climatology of atmospheric turbulence through the detection of overturns in the free atmosphere by applying a Thorpe analysis on relatively low vertical resolution (LR) profiles collected from standard radiosoundings. Since then, several studies based on this idea have been published. However, the impact of instrumental noise on the detection of turbulent layers was completely ignored in these works. The present study aims to evaluate the feasibility of overturns detection from radiosoundings. For this purpose, we analyzed data of two field campaigns during which high-resolution (HR) soundings (10–20 cm) were performed simultaneously with standard LR soundings. We used the raw data of standard meteorological radiosondes, the vertical resolution ranging from 5 to 9 m.

A Thorpe analysis was applied to both LR and HR potential temperature profiles. A denoising procedure was first applied in order to reduce the probability of occurrence of artificial overturns, i.e. potential temperature inversions due to instrumental noise only. We then compared the empirical probability density functions (pdf) of the sizes of the selected overturns from LR and HR profiles.

From HR profiles measured in the troposphere, the sizes of the detected overturns range from 4 to ~1000 m. The shape of the size pdf of overturns is found to sharply decrease with increasing scales. From LR profiles, the smallest size of detected overturns is ~32 m, a similar decrease in the shape of the pdf of sizes being observed. These results suggest that overturns, resulting either from small-scale turbulence or from instabilities, can indeed be detected from meteorological radiosonde measurements in the troposphere and in the stratosphere as well. However they are rather rare as they belong to the tail of the size distribution of overturns: they only represent the 7 % largest events in the troposphere, and 4 % in the stratosphere.