Vertical resolution requirements in atmospheric simulation

William C. Skamarock, Chris Snyder, Joseph B. Klemp, Sang Hun Park

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


The role of vertical mesh spacing in the convergence of full-physics global atmospheric model solutions is examined for synoptic, mesoscale, and convective-scale horizontal resolutions. Using the MPAS-Atmosphere model, convergence is evaluated for three solution metrics: the horizontal kinetic energy spectrum, the Richardson number probability density function, and resolved flow features. All three metrics exhibit convergence in the free atmosphere for a 15-km horizontal mesh when the vertical grid spacing is less than or equal to 200 m. Nonconvergence is accompanied by noise, spurious structures, reduced levels of mesoscale kinetic energy, and reduced Richardson number peak frequencies. Coarser horizontal mesh solutions converge in a similar manner but contain much less noise than the 15-km solutions for coarse vertical resolution. For convective-scale resolution simulations with 3-km cell spacing on a variable-resolution mesh, solution convergence is almost attained with a vertical mesh spacing of 200 m. The boundary layer scheme is the dominant source of vertical filtering in the free atmosphere. Although the increased vertical mixing at coarser vertical mesh spacing depresses the kinetic energy spectra and Richardson number convergence, it does not produce sufficient dissipation to effectively halt scale collapse. These results confirm and extend the results from a number of previous studies, and further emphasize the sensitivity of the energetics to the vertical mixing formulations in the model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2641-2656
Number of pages16
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jul

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments. Computing support for this work was provided by NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory. The National Center for Atmospheric Research is supported by the National Science Foundation. The authors would also like to acknowledge the two anonymous reviewers for helping to improve the clarity of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Meteorological Society.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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