In conjunction with recent atmospheric modulation transfer function (MTF) measurements for desert and mountain locations, the distribution of optical turbulence within the planetary boundary layer was measured by using tower, aircraft, and acoustic sounder techniques. Diurnal variations in the atmospheric turbulence within 1–3 km above the surface dominate the MTF observations. During convective, daylight hours, desert and mountain boundary layers are found to be similar. The magnitudes of optical turbulence (Cn2) are comparable, and similar thermal plume structures are observed. In addition, optical turbulence is found to have a simple (Δθ)4/3 dependence on the air–surface temperature difference. At night, the cool ground surface produces turbulent, stratified layers above a desert that are not observed for a mountain. The effects of tower height above the ground are investigated theoretically and experimentally. MTF measurements made 2 and 8 m above the desert during the day are in good agreement with theoretical models. We observe interrelationships between the turbulent boundary layer and the atmospheric MTF that can be applied to the selection of both astronomical and solar telescope site locations.
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