This article presents observations and model simulations of the low-level nocturnal structure of the atmosphere over West Africa. The measurements are taken from the dry-season Special Observing Period (SOP-0) of the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis (AMMA), at Niamey, Niger, on 23 and 24 January 2006. During this time, mesoscale structures in the atmospheric aerosol loadings were observed. The available observations indicate that these mesoscale features at Niamey are consistent with the passage of gravity currents or bores in the northerly Harmattan winds.
Model simulations at resolutions down to 1 km indicate that the mesoscale structures are caused by nocturnal frontogenesis in the baroclinic zone to the south of the Sahara in the winter months. This frontogenesis is a continental-scale phenomenon, which has significant implications for the uplift and transport of dust and biomass-burning aerosols in the region. An accompanying frontogenetic feature appears further south in the model simulations, associated with the winter intertropical front. The frontogenesis is possibly linked with the development of structures showing characteristics of canonical mesoscale phenomena, including internal bores and gravity currents. Representation of these features in the UK Met Office Unified Model at different resolutions (from 12 km to 1 km) is discussed.