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Cold Pools, Effective Buoyancy, and Atmospheric Convection


‘Cold pools’ are pools of air that have been cooled by rain evaporation, and which subsequently slump down and spread out across the Earth’s surface due to their negative buoyancy. Such cold pools, which typically arise from rain produced by convection, also feed back upon convection by kicking up new convection at their edges.

This thesis studies the interaction of cold pools and convection at two levels of detail: on one end, we study the dynamics and thermodynamics of a single, idealized cold pool, and on the other, we study the interplay between a steady-state ensemble of convection and the many cold pools that accompany it. A recurring notion is that of ‘effective buoyancy’, which is the net acceleration experienced by a density anomaly such as a cold pool, including the back-reaction of the environment (i.e. the ‘virtual mass effect’) which reduces the net acceleration from its Archimedean value. We derive analytical formulae for the effective buoyancy of cold pools and other roughly cylindrical density anomalies, and use the same framework to understand the forces at play when cold pools trigger new convection. We also analyze the sizes and lifetimes of cold pools, and examine the impact of cold pools on the organization (i.e. clustering) of convection.

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