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Large-eddy Simulation of the Nighttime Stable Atmospheric Boundary Layer


A stable atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) develops over land at night due to radiative surface cooling. The state of turbulence in the stable boundary layer (SBL) is determined by the competing forcings of shear production and buoyancy destruction. When both forcings are comparable in strength, the SBL falls into an intermittently turbulent state, where intense turbulent bursts emerge sporadically from an overall quiescent background. This usually occurs on clear nights with weak winds when the SBL is strongly stable. Although turbulent bursts are generally short-lived (half an hour or less), their impact on the SBL is significant since they are responsible for most of the turbulent mixing.

The nighttime SBL can be modeled with large-eddy simulation (LES). LES is a turbulence-resolving numerical approach which separates the large-scale energy-containing eddies from the smaller ones based on application of a spatial filter. While the large eddies are explicitly resolved, the small ones are represented by a subfilter-scale (SFS) stress model. Simulation of the SBL is more challenging than the daytime convective boundary layer (CBL) because nighttime turbulent motions are limited by buoyancy stratification, thus requiring fine grid resolution at the cost of immense computational resources. The intermittently turbulent SBL adds additional levels of complexity, requiring the model to not only sustain resolved turbulence during quiescent periods, but also to transition into a turbulent state under appropriate conditions. As a result, LES of the strongly stable SBL potentially requires even finer grid resolution, and has seldom been attempted.

This dissertation takes a different approach. By improving the SFS representation of turbulence with a more sophisticated model, intermittently turbulent SBL is simulated, to our knowledge, for the first time in the LES literature. The turbulence closure is the dynamic reconstruction model (DRM), applied under an explicit filtering and reconstruction LES framework. The DRM is a mixed model that consists of subgrid scale (SGS) and resolved subfilter scale (RSFS) components. The RSFS portion is represented by a scale-similarity model that allows for backscatter of energy from the SFS to the mean flow. Compared to conventional closures, the DRM is able to sustain resolved turbulence under moderate stability at coarser resolution (thus saving computational resources). The DRM performs equally well at fine resolution. Under strong stability, the DRM simulates an intermittently turbulent SBL, whereas conventional closures predict false laminar flows. The improved simulation methodology of the SBL has many potential applications in the area of wind energy, numerical weather prediction, pollution modeling and so on.

The SBL is first simulated over idealized flat terrain with prescribed forcings and periodic lateral boundaries. A wide range of stability regimes, from weakly to strongly stable conditions, is tested to evaluate model performance. Under strongly stable conditions, intermittency due to mean shear and turbulence interactions is simulated and analyzed. Furthermore, results of the strongly stable SBL are used to improve wind farm siting and nighttime operations. Moving away from the idealized setting, the SBL is simulated over relatively flat terrain at a Kansas site over the Great Plains, where the Cooperative Atmospheric-Surface Exchange Study - 1999 (CASES-99) took place. The LES obtains realistic initial and lateral boundary conditions from a meso-scale model reanalysis through a grid nesting procedure. Shear-instability induced intermittency observed on the night of Oct 5th during CASES-99 is reproduced to good temporal and magnitude agreement. The LES locates the origin of the shear-instability waves in a shallow upwind valley, and uncovers the intermittency mechanism to be wave breaking over a standing wave (formed over a stagnant cold-air bubble) across the valley. Finally, flow over the highly complex terrain of the Owens Valley in California is modeled with a similar nesting procedure. The LES results are validated with observation data from the 2006 Terrain-Induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX). The nested LES reproduces a transient nighttime warming event observed on the valley floor on April 17 during T-REX. The intermittency mechanism is shown to be through slope-valley flow transitions. In addition, a cold-air intrusion from the eastern valley sidewall is simulated. This generates an easterly cross-valley flow, and the associated top-down mixing through breaking Kelvin-Helmholtz billows is analyzed. Finally, the nesting methodology tested and optimized in the CASES-99 and T-REX studies is transferrable to general ABL applications. For example, a nested LES is performed to model daytime methane plume dispersion over a landfill and good results are obtained.

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