Boundary-Layer Meteorology

, Volume 126, Issue 3, pp 433–460

The Effects of Canopy Leaf Area Index on Airflow Across Forest Edges: Large-eddy Simulation and Analytical Results

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10546-007-9242-1

Cite this article as:
Cassiani, M., Katul, G.G. & Albertson, J.D. Boundary-Layer Meteorol (2008) 126: 433. doi:10.1007/s10546-007-9242-1


The structure of turbulent flows along a transition between tall-forested canopies and forest clearings continues to be an active research topic in canopy turbulence. The difficulties in describing the turbulent flow along these transitions stem from the fact that the vertical structure of the canopy and its leaf area distribution cannot be ignored or represented by an effective roughness length. Large-eddy simulation (LES) runs were performed to explore the effect of a homogeneous variation in the forest leaf area index (LAI) on the turbulent flow across forest edges. A nested grid numerical method was used to ensure the development of a deep boundary layer above the forest while maintaining a sufficiently high resolution in the region close to the ground. It was demonstrated that the LES here predicted first-order and second-order mean velocity statistics within the canopy that agree with reported Reynolds-Averaged Navier–Stokes (RANS) model results, field and laboratory experiments. In the simulations reported here, the LAI was varied between 2 and 8 spanning a broad range of observed LAI in terrestrial ecosystems. By increasing the forest LAI, the mean flow properties both within the forest and in the clearing near the forest edge were altered in two fundamental ways: near the forest edge and into the clearing, the flow statistical properties resembled the so-called back-facing step (BFS) flow with a mean recirculation zone near the edge. Another recirculation zone sets up downstream of the clearing as the flow enters the tall forest canopy. The genesis of this within-forest recirculation zone can be primarily described using the interplay between the mean pressure gradients (forcing the flow) and the drag force (opposing the flow). Using the LES results, a simplified analytical model was also proposed to explain the location of the recirculation zone inside the canopy and its dependence on the forest LAI. Furthermore, a simplified scaling argument that decomposes the mean velocity at the outflow edge into a superposition of ‘exit flow’ and BFS-like flow with their relative importance determined by LAI was explored.


Back-facing step flow Boundary layer Exit flow Forest edge Large-eddy simulations Recirculation 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Nicholas school of the EnvironmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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