Boundary-Layer Meteorology

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 15–49

The influence of surface roughness of deserts on the July circulation

A numerical study
  • Y. C. Sud
  • W. E. Smith

DOI: 10.1007/BF00137034

Cite this article as:
Sud, Y.C. & Smith, W.E. Boundary-Layer Meteorol (1985) 33: 15. doi:10.1007/BF00137034


The influence of low surface roughness of deserts on the July circulation is examined by employing numerical simulations with a GLAS GCM. Two identical sets of simulations were made with the model starting from the initial state of the atmosphere based on the NMC analysis of observations for June 15, at OOZ for the years 1979 and 1980. The first set, called the Control, had land surface roughness set to 45 cm, everywhere. The second set called the Experiment, had surface roughness set to 0.02 cm for deserts, but 45 cm everywhere else on land. All other prescribed boundary conditions were the same in both runs.

A comparative analysis of these simulations showed that the rainfall in the Sahara desert was reduced significantly in both Experiments as compared to the corresponding Controls; the ITCZ (inter-tropical convergence zone) moved southward, to about 14° N, which is close to its observed location at about 10° N. This was primarily caused by the relative moisture divergence from the smoother Sahara. In other deserts, which anyway had little rainfall in the July simulation of the Control run, there was virtually no change. The differences in regional heat and moisture budgets, particularly for the Sahara desert, are significant as compared to the sample standard deviation for a set of three July simulations (i.e., Control runs for three different initial conditions). In a third simulation, in which the surface roughness was changed over all land, similar results were obtained in the Sahara desert region.

The study reveals the influence of low surface-roughness of deserts on the July rainfall. For the Sahara desert, this influence is comparable to that of an increase in surface albedo. In nature, formation of deserts leads to reduction of surface roughness as the vegetation perishes and soil erosion ensues. It is inferred that the smoothness of land then causes reduction in rainfall and further promotes desertification.

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Y. C. Sud
    • 1
  • W. E. Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory for Atmospheric Sciences, NASA/Goddard Space Flight CenterGreenbeltUSA

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