Mean and turbulence dynamics in unsteady Ekman boundary layers

Mostafa Momen, Elie R. Bou-Zeid

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31 Scopus citations


Unsteady pressure gradients in turbulent flows not only influence the mean, but also affect the higher statistical moments of turbulence. In these flows, it is important to understand if and when turbulence is in quasi-equilibrium with the mean in order to better capture the dynamics and develop effective closure models. Therefore, this study aims to elucidate how turbulence decays or develops relative to a time-varying mean flow, and how the turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) production, transport and dissipation respond to changes in the imposed pressure forcing. The focus is on the neutral unsteady Ekman boundary layer, where pressure-gradient, Coriolis and turbulent friction forces interact, and the analyses are based on a suite of large-eddy simulations with unsteady pressure forcing. The results indicate that the dynamics is primarily controlled by the relative magnitudes of three time scales: the inertial time scale (characterized by Coriolis frequency ∼12 hours at mid-latitudes), the turbulent time scale (∼2 hours for the largest eddies in the present simulations) and the forcing variability time scale (which is varied to reflect different (sub)meso to synoptic scale dynamics). When the forcing time scale is comparable to the turbulence time scale, the quasi-equilibrium condition becomes invalid due to highly complex interactions between the mean and turbulence, the velocity profiles manifestly depart from the log-law and the normalized TKE budget terms vary strongly in time. However, for longer, and surprisingly for shorter, forcing times, quasi-equilibrium is reasonably maintained. The analyses elucidate the physical mechanisms that trigger these dynamics, and investigate the implications on turbulence closure models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-242
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Apr 10 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics


  • atmospheric flows
  • turbulence modelling
  • turbulent boundary layers


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