Turbulence Characteristics in the Atmospheric Surface Layer for Different Wind Regimes over the Tropical Zongo Glacier (Bolivia, \(16^\circ \)S)


We investigate properties of the turbulent flow and sensible heat fluxes in the atmospheric surface layer of the high elevation tropical Zongo glacier (\(5,080\) m a.s.l., \(16^\circ \)S, Bolivia) from data collected in the dry season from July to August 2007, with an eddy-covariance system and a 6-m mast for wind speed and temperature profiles. Focus is on the predominant downslope wind regime. A low-level wind-speed maximum, around a height of \(2\) m, is detected in low wind conditions (37 % of the time). In strong wind conditions (39 % of the time), no wind-speed maximum is detected. Statistical and spectral analyses reveal low frequency oscillations of the horizontal wind speed that increase vertical mixing. In strong winds, wavelet analysis shows that coherent structures systematically enhance the turbulent sensible heat fluxes, accounting for 44–52 % of the flux. In contrast, in low wind conditions, the katabatic flow is perturbed by its slow oscillations or meandering motions, inducing erratic turbulent sensible heat fluxes. These motions account for 37–43 % of the flux. On tropical glaciers, the commonly used bulk aerodynamic profile method underestimates the eddy-covariance-based flux, probably because it does not account for low frequency disturbances that influence the surface flow in both wind regimes.

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The glaciological program is supported by the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). The authors are grateful for the assistance provided by IHH (Instituto de Hidraulica e Hídrologia), UMSA (Universidad Mayor de San Andrés) in La Paz, Bolivia. This work was funded by the French SO/SOERE GLACIOCLIM (, the ANR program TAG 05-JCJC-0135 and the LMI program GREATICE. It has been supported by a grant from Labex OSUG@2020 (Investissements d’avenir ANR10 LABX56). We gratefully thank Sebastien Blein for stimulating discussions and Yves Lejeune, Jean Philippe Chazarin and Benjamin Lehmann for the technical and field work.

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Correspondence to Maxime Litt.

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Litt, M., Sicart, J., Helgason, W.D. et al. Turbulence Characteristics in the Atmospheric Surface Layer for Different Wind Regimes over the Tropical Zongo Glacier (Bolivia, \(16^\circ \)S). Boundary-Layer Meteorol 154, 471–495 (2015).

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  • Coherent structures
  • Eddy covariance
  • Energy balance
  • Katabatic wind
  • Tropical glaciers