Very-Large-Scale Motions in the Atmospheric Boundary Layer Educed by Snapshot Proper Orthogonal Decomposition

Stimit Shah, Elie R. Bou-Zeid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Large-eddy simulations of the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) under a wide range of stabilities are conducted to educe very-large-scale motions and then to study their dynamics and how they are influenced by buoyancy. Preliminary flow visualizations suggest that smaller-scale motions that resemble hairpins are embedded in much larger scale streamwise meandering rolls. Using simulations that represent more than 150 h of physical time, many snapshots in the xy-, yz- and xz-planes are then collected to perform snapshot proper orthogonal decomposition and further investigate the large structures. These analyses confirm that large streamwise rolls that share several features with the very-large-scale motions observed in laboratory studies arise as the dominant modes under most stabilities, but the effect of the surface kinematic buoyancy flux on the energy content of these dominant modes is very significant. The first two modes in the yz-plane in the neutral case contain up to 3 % of the total turbulent kinetic energy; they also have a vertical tilt angle in the yz-plane of about 0 to 30∘ due to the turning effect associated with the Coriolis force. Unstable cases also feature streamwise rolls, but in the convective ABL they are strengthened by rising plumes in between them, with two to four rolls spanning the whole domain in the first few modes; the Coriolis effect is much weaker in the unstable ABL. These rolls are no longer the dominant modes under stable conditions where the first mode is observed to contain sheet-like motions with high turbulent kinetic energy. Using these proper orthogonal decomposition modes, we are also able to extract the vertical velocity fields corresponding to individual modes and then to correlate them with the horizontal velocity or temperature fields to obtain the momentum and heat flux carried by individual modes. Structurally, the fluxes are explained by the topology of their corresponding modes. However, the fraction of the fluxes produced by the modes is invariably smaller than the fraction of energy they contain, particularly under stable conditions where the first modes are found to perform weak counter-gradient fluxes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)355-387
Number of pages33
JournalBoundary-Layer Meteorology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 6 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Buoyancy
  • Coherent structures
  • Large-eddy simulation
  • Proper orthogonal decomposition
  • Rolls
  • Very-large-scale motions


Dive into the research topics of 'Very-Large-Scale Motions in the Atmospheric Boundary Layer Educed by Snapshot Proper Orthogonal Decomposition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this