Inversion breakup in small Rocky Mountain and Alpine basins

Charles David Whiteman, Bernhard Pospichal, Stefan Eisenbach, Philipp Weihs, Craig B. Clements, Reinhold Steinacker, Erich Mursch-Radlgruber, Manfred Dorninger

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


Comparisons are made between the postsunrise breakup of temperature inversions in two similar closed basins in very different climate settings, one in the eastern Alps and one in the Rocky Mountains. The small, high-altitude, limestone sinkholes have both experienced extreme temperature minima below -50°C and both develop strong nighttime inversions. On undisturbed clear nights, temperature inversions reach to 120-m heights in both sinkholes but are much stronger in the drier Rocky Mountain basin (24 vs 13 K). Inversion destruction takes place 2.6-3 h after sunrise in these basins and is accomplished primarily by subsidence warming associated with the removal of air from the base of the inversion by the upslope flows that develop over heated sidewalls. A conceptual model of this destruction is presented, emphasizing the asymmetry of the boundary layer development around the basin and the effects of solar shading by the surrounding ridgeline. Differences in inversion strengths and postsunrise heating rates between the two basins are caused by differences in the surface energy budget, with drier soil and a higher sensible heat flux in the Rocky Mountain sinkhole. Inversions in the small basins break up more quickly following sunrise than for previously studied valleys. The pattern of inversion breakup in the non-snow-covered basins is the same as that reported in snow-covered Colorado valleys. The similar breakup patterns in valleys and basins suggest that along-valley wind systems play no role in the breakups, since the small basins have no along-valley wind system. Œ 2004 American Meteorological Society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1069-1082
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Applied Meteorology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2004

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 1030 Physics, Astronomy

Cite this