The atmospheric boundary layer is the level of the atmosphere where all human activities occur. It is a layer characterized by its turbulent flow state, meaning that the velocity, temperature and scalar concentrations fluctuate over scales that range from less than a millimetre to several kilometres. It is those fluctuations that make dispersion of pollutants and transport of heat, momentum as well as scalars such as carbon dioxide or cloud-condensation nuclei efficient. It is also the layer where a ‘hand-shake’ occurs between activities on the land surface and the climate system, primarily due to the action of large energetic swirling motions or eddies. The atmospheric boundary layer experiences dramatic transitions depending on whether the underlying surface is being heated or cooled. The existing paradigm describing the size and energetics of large-scale and very large-scale eddies in turbulent flows has been shaped by decades of experiments and simulations on smooth pipes and channels with no surface heating or cooling. The emerging picture, initiated by A. A. Townsend in 1951, is that large- and very large-scale motions appear to be approximated by a collection of hairpin-shaped vortices whose population density scales inversely with distance from the boundary. How does surface heating, quintessential to the atmospheric boundary layer, alter this canonical picture? What are the implications of such a buoyancy force on the geometry and energy distribution across velocity components in those large eddies? How do these large eddies modulate small eddies near the ground? Answering these questions and tracking their consequences to existing theories used today to describe the flow statistics in the atmospheric boundary layer are addressed in the work of Salesky & Anderson (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 856, 2018, pp. 135–168). The findings are both provocative and surprisingly simple.
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