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Can CAPE maintain polar lows?

Journal article
Authors Torsten Linders
Øyvind Saetra
Published in Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Volume 67
Issue 8
Pages 2559-2571
ISSN 0022-4928
Publication year 2010
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Pages 2559-2571
Language en
Keywords Aircraft observations, Dropsondes, Instability, Polar lows
Subject categories Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences


A unique dataset of atmospheric observations over the Nordic Seas has been analyzed to investigate the role of convective available potential energy (CAPE) for the energetics of polar lows. The observations were made during the flight campaign of the Norwegian International Polar Year (IPY) and The Observing System Research and Predictability Experiment (THORPEX) in February and March 2008, which specifically targeted polar lows. The data reveal virtually no conditional instability and very limited CAPE. It is suggested that the significance of CAPE values should be assessed by calculating the time scale tCAPE that is necessary for the heat fluxes from the ocean to transfer the corresponding amount of energy. Even the largest CAPE values have a tCAPE of less than 1 h. These CAPE values are associated with unconditional instability. It is concluded that the observed CAPE should be seen as a temporary stage in an energy flux rather than as an energy reservoir. Based on the findings in this investigation, it is proposed that significant reservoirs of CAPE over the marine Arctic atmosphere are impossible since CAPE production will automatically trigger convection and CAPE is consumed as it is produced.

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