Phenomena

Flow in Urban Areas

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While we typically think about boundary layers as a small region near the surface of an object–be it airplane, golf ball, or engine wall–boundary layers can be enormous, like the planetary boundary layer, the part of the atmosphere directly affected by the earth’s surface. Shown above is a flow visualization of the boundary layer in an urban area; note the models of buildings. In these atmospheric boundary layers, buildings, trees, and even mountains act like a random rough surface over which the air moves. This roughness drives the fluid to turbulent motion, clear here from the unsteadiness and intermittency of the boundary layer as well as the large variation in scale between the largest and smallest eddies and whorls. In the atmosphere, the difference in scale between the largest and smallest eddies can vary more than five orders of magnitude.

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