Midday Boundary-Layer Collapse in the Altiplano Desert: The Combined Effect of Advection and Subsidence

Francisca Aguirre-Correa*, Jordi Vilà Guerau de Arellano, Reinder Ronda, Felipe Lobos-Roco, Francisco Suárez, Oscar Hartogensis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Observations in the Altiplano region of the Atacama Desert show that the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) suddenly collapses at noon. This rapid decrease occurs simultaneously to the entrance of a thermally driven, regional flow that causes a rise in wind speed and a marked temperature decrease. We identify the main drivers that cause the observed ABL collapse by using a land–atmosphere model. The free atmosphere lapse rate and regional forcings, such as advection of mass and cold air as well as subsidence, are first estimated by combining observations from a comprehensive field campaign and a regional model. Then, to disentangle the ABL collapse, we perform a suite of numerical experiments with increasing level of complexity: from only considering local land–atmosphere interactions, to systematically including the regional contributions of mass advection, cold air advection, and subsidence. Our results show that non-local processes related to the arrival of the regional flow are the main factors explaining the boundary-layer collapse. The advection of a shallower boundary layer (≈ - 250 m h- 1 at noon) causes an immediate decrease in the ABL height (h) at midday. This occurs simultaneously with the arrival of a cold air mass, which reaches a strength of ≈ - 4 K h- 1 at 1400 LT. These two external forcings become dominant over entrainment and surface processes that warm the atmosphere and increase h. As a consequence, the ABL growth is capped during the afternoon. Finally, a wind divergence of ≈ 8 × 10 - 5 s- 1 contributes to the collapse by causing subsidence motions over the ABL from 1200 LT onward. Our findings show the relevance of treating large and small-scale processes as a continuum to be able to understand the ABL dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-671
Number of pages29
JournalBoundary-Layer Meteorology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2023


  • Advection
  • Altiplano
  • Boundary-layer collapse
  • WRF


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