Journal of the Meteorological Society of Japan. Ser. II
Online ISSN : 2186-9057
Print ISSN : 0026-1165
ISSN-L : 0026-1165
Invited Review Articles
Topography in Weather and Climate Models: Lessons from Cut-Cell Eta vs. European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Experiments
Author information

2020 Volume 98 Issue 5 Pages 881-900


While the terrain-following (sigma) system of representing topography in atmospheric models has been dominant for about the last 60 years, already half a century ago problems using the system were reported in areas of steep topography. A number of schemes had been proposed to address these problems. However, when topography steepness exceeds a given limit all these schemes except the vertical interpolation of the pressure gradient begin to use model information that for physical reasons they should not use.

A radical departure from the system was that of the step-topography eta; but its attractiveness was reduced by the discovery of the corner separation problem. The shaved-cell scheme, nowadays referred to as cut-cell, was free of that problem, and was tested subsequently in idealized as well as real case experiments with encouraging results. The eta discretization has lately been refined to make it also a cut-cell scheme. Another method referred to usually as immersed boundary method enabling treatment of terrain as complex as urban landscape came from computational fluid dynamics. It was made available coupled to the atmospheric Weather Research and Forecasting model.

Results of recent experiments of the cut-cell Eta driven by European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) ensemble members are analyzed. In these experiments, all cut-cell Eta members achieved better verification scores with respect to 250 hPa wind speed than their ECMWF driver members. This occurred when an upper-tropospheric trough was crossing the Rocky Mountains barrier. These results are considerably less favorable for the Eta when switched to use sigma, i.e., Eta/sigma, pointing to the benefits of using topography intersecting as opposed to terrain-following systems. But even so the Eta/sigma shows an advantage over its driver members, suggesting that its other features deserve attention.

Information related to the author

© The Author(s) 2020. This is an open access article published by the Meteorological Society of Japan under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.
Next article