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Simulations, made with the fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University (PSU)–National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Mesoscale Model (MM5), of the response of the marine atmospheric boundary layer (MABL) as air moves over a sharp SST front are compared with observations made during the Frontal Air–Sea Interaction Experiment (FASINEX) in the North Atlantic subtropical convergence zone. The purpose of undertaking these comparisons was to evaluate the performance of MM5 in the vicinity of an SST front and to determine which of the planetary boundary layer (PBL) parameterizations available best represents MABL processes. FASINEX provides an ideal dataset for this work in that it contains detailed measurements for scenarios at the two extremes: wind blowing from warm to cold water normal to a 2°C SST front and the converse, wind blowing from cold to warm water.

For the wind blowing from warm to cold water, there is a pronounced modification of the near-surface wind field over the front, in both model results and aircraft observations. The decrease of near-surface wind speed and stress is due to a stable internal boundary layer (IBL) induced by the SST front, restricting exchange of mass and momentum between the surface and upper part of the MABL. For the cold-to-warm case, the relatively strong vertical mixing through the entire MABL over warm water dampens the response of the near-surface winds and surface stress to the SST front. The properties observed by the aircraft are simulated quite well in both cases, suggesting that MM5 captures the appropriate boundary layer physics at the mesoscale or regional scale.