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.
- Boundary-layer collapse