Journal of Fluid Mechanics


Katabatic flow along a differentially cooled sloping surface


a1 School of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73072, USA


Buoyancy inhomogeneities on sloping surfaces arise in numerous situations, for example, from variations in snow/ice cover, cloud cover, topographic shading, soil moisture, vegetation type, and land use. In this paper, the classical Prandtl model for one-dimensional flow of a viscous stably stratified fluid along a uniformly cooled sloping planar surface is extended to include the simplest type of surface inhomogeneity – a surface buoyancy that varies linearly down the slope. The inhomogeneity gives rise to acceleration, vertical motions associated with low-level convergence, and horizontal and vertical advection of perturbation buoyancy. Such processes are not accounted for in the classical Prandtl model. A similarity hypothesis appropriate for this inhomogeneous flow removes the along-slope dependence from the problem, and, in the steady state, reduces the Boussinesq equations of motion and thermodynamic energy to a set of coupled nonlinear ordinary differential equations. Asymptotic solutions for the velocity and buoyancy variables in the steady state, valid for large values of the slope-normal coordinate, are obtained for a Prandtl number of unity for pure katabatic flow with no ambient wind or externally imposed pressure gradient. The undetermined parameters in these solutions are adjusted to conform to lower boundary conditions of no-slip, impermeability and specified buoyancy. These solutions yield formulae for the boundary-layer thickness and slope-normal velocity component at the top of the boundary layer, and provide an upper bound of the along-slope surface-buoyancy gradient beyond which steady-state solutions do not exist. Although strictly valid for flow above the boundary layer, the steady asymptotic solutions are found to be in very good agreement with the terminal state of the numerical solution of an initial-value problem (suddenly applied surface buoyancy) throughout the flow domain. The numerical results also show that solution non-existence is associated with self-excitation of growing low-frequency gravity waves.

(Received November 23 2005)

(Revised June 22 2006)