Turbulence in vegetation canopies – from biometeorology to wildfires


Monday, April 18, 2022 - 3:30pm to 4:30pm


ESB 1001


Tirtha Banerjee


The traditional motivation behind studying the dynamics of turbulent wind flow in vegetation canopies has been to understand the nature of mass, momentum and energy exchange between the land surface and the atmosphere. The nature of this interaction determines the microclimate in a forest environment where plants exchange carbon and water and its understanding is relevant for a plethora of applications ranging from ecology, hydrology, agriculture and the modeling of weather and climate. However, the fundamental nature of turbulence in a vegetation canopy is significantly different from the atmospheric surface layer lying above, which means that scaling laws and exchange coefficients from traditional wall bounded flows are not applicable. In a forest canopy, momentum absorption happens not only at the ground surface but throughout the depth of the canopy, resulting in a unique ‘roughness sub layer’. Instead of a log-layer, the mean velocity profile is inflected, second order moments are variable with height and skewnesses are large. Large scale coherent structures impart significant impact on the turbulence dynamics. Sweeping motions arising out of downdraft motions of counter-rotating vortices dominate eddy fluxes. A mixing layer model is found to be a better model for describing canopy flows. High frequency measurements and computational fluid dynamics modeling, especially Large Eddy Simulations (LES) has been instrumental in revealing the nature of canopy turbulence in the last few decades. Now this knowledge is being used to push the frontiers of our limited understanding of how wildland fires behave. The main controls on wildland fire behavior – fuel (canopy and grasslands), weather and topography are strongly influenced by fine scale physics of canopy turbulence. We will demonstrate that further developments in the understanding of canopy turbulence can benefit wildfire modeling tools and developing actionable management strategies.

Short Bio

Tirtha Banerjee is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine. He received his B.S. degree in Civil Engineering from Jadavpur University (Calcutta, India) in 2011 and PhD is Environmental Science from Duke University (Durham, NC, USA) in 2015. After conducting postdoctoral research at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany and Los Alamos National Lab (NM, USA) as a Chick Keller Postdoctoral Fellow in climate science and subsequently as a Director’s Fellow in atmospheric sciences, he joined UC Irvine in fall 2019. Research in the Boundary Layers and Turbulence (BLT) Lab led by Banerjee studies wildfires, environmental flows and land-atmosphere interaction using a range of theoretical, numerical, and experimental techniques. He leads the NSF funded international consortium on wildfires, called iFireNet and the UCOP funded SPARx project aimed at transforming prescribed fire practices for California. He was recently awarded the NSF CAREER Award to conduct research on the role of turbulent fluid dynamics in wildland fire behavior.

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