The Height of the Atmospheric Planetary Boundary layer: State of the Art and New Development

  • Sergej S. ZilitinkevichEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series C: Environmental Security book series (NAPSC)


The planetary boundary layer (PBL) is defined as the strongly turbulent atmospheric layer immediately affected by dynamic, thermal and other interactions with the Earth’s surface. It essentially differs in nature from the weakly turbulent and persistently stably-stratified free atmosphere. To some extent the PBL upper boundary acts as a lid preventing dust, aerosols, gases and any other admixtures released from ground sources to efficiently penetrate upwards, thus blocking them within the PBL. It is conceivable that the air pollution is especially hazardous when associated with shallow PBLs. Likewise, positive or negative perturbations of the heat budget at the Earth’s surface immediately impact on the PBL and are almost completely absorbed within the PBL through the very efficient mechanism of turbulent heat transfer. Determination of the PBL height is, therefore, an important aspect of modelling and prediction of air-pollution events and extreme colds or heats dangerous for human health. Because of high sensitivity of shallow PBLs to thermal impacts, variability of the PBL height is an important factor controlling fine features of climate change. Deep convective PBLs strongly impact on the climate system through turbulent entrainment (“ventilation”) at the PBL upper boundary, and thus essentially control development of convective clouds. This paper outlines modern knowledge about physical mechanisms and theoretical models of the PBL height and turbulent entrainment, and presents an advanced model of geophysical convective PBL.


Aerosols Air pollution Atmospheric boundary layer Baroclinic shear Boundary-layer height Buoyancy Colds Emissions Entrainment Diurnal variations Free atmosphere Heats Human health Turbulence Stratification Vertical turbulent fluxes Wind shear 



convective boundary layer


conventionally neutral


internal gravity waves


large-eddy simulation


long-lived stable


nocturnal stable


planetary boundary layer


stable boundary layer


turbulent kinetic energy


truly neutral



This work has been supported by EC FP7 project ERC PBL-PMES (No. 227915) and Federal Targeted Programme “Research and Educational Human Resources of Innovation Russia 2009–2013” (Contract No. 02.740.11.5225); and the Russian Federation Government Grant No. 11.G34.31.0048.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Finnish Meteorological InstituteHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Division of Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  3. 3.Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing CentreBergenNorway
  4. 4.A.M. Obukhov Institute of Atmospheric PhysicsMoscowRussia
  5. 5.Department of Radio PhysicsN.I. Lobachevski State University of NizhniyNovgorodRussia
  6. 6.Department of MeteorologyRussian State Hydrometeorological UniversitySt. PetersburgRussia

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