Boundary-Layer Meteorology

, 140:361 | Cite as

Impact of Sea-Spray on the Atmospheric Surface Layer

  • L. Bianco
  • J.-W. Bao
  • C. W. Fairall
  • S. A. Michelson
Open Access


The feedback effects of sea-spray on the heat and momentum fluxes under equilibrium conditions associated with winds of tropical cyclones are investigated using a one-dimensional coupled sea-spray and atmospheric surface-layer (ASL) model. This model is capable of simulating the microphysical aspects of the evaporation of saline water droplets of various sizes and their dynamic and thermal interaction with the turbulence mixing that is simulated by the Mellor–Yamada 1.5-order closure scheme. Sea-spray droplet generation is described by a state-of-the-art parametrization that predicts the size spectrum of sea-spray droplets for a given surface forcing. The results from a series of simulations indicate the way in which evaporating droplets of various sizes modify the turbulence mixing near the surface, which in turn affects further droplet evaporation. All these results are direct consequences of the effects of sea-spray on the balance of turbulent kinetic energy in the spray-filled surface layer. In particular, the overall impact of sea-spray droplets on the mean wind depends on the wind speed at the level of sea-spray generation. When the wind speed is below 40 m s−1, the droplets are small in size and tend to evaporate substantially and thus cool the spray-filled layer, while for wind speeds above 50 m s−1, the size of the droplets is so large that they do not have enough time to evaporate much before falling back into the sea. The sensible heat carried by the droplets is released to the ambient air, increasing the buoyancy of the surface layer and enhancing the turbulent mixing. The suspension of sea-spray droplets reduces the buoyancy and makes the surface layer more stable, decreasing the friction velocity and the downward turbulent mixing of momentum. The results from the numerical experiments also suggest that, in order not to violate the constant flux assumption critical to the Monin–Obukhov similarity theory, a displacement equal to the mean wave height should be included in the logarithmic profiles of the wind and thermal fields.


Air–sea interaction Atmospheric surface layer Sea-spray Surface boundary layer 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. Bianco
    • 1
    • 2
  • J.-W. Bao
    • 1
  • C. W. Fairall
    • 1
  • S. A. Michelson
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Earth Systems Research LaboratoryNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental SciencesUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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