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    Author(s): Michael T. Kiefer; Matthew D. Parker; Joseph J. Charney
    Date: 2009
    Source: Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences. 66: 806-836.
    Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
    Station: Northern Research Station
    PDF: Download Publication  (6.92 MB)


    Wildfires are capable of inducing atmospheric circulations that result predominantly from large temperature anomalies produced by the fire. The fundamental dynamics through which a forest fire and the atmosphere interact to yield different convective regimes is still not well understood. This study uses the Advanced Regional Prediction System (ARPS) model to investigate the impact of the environmental (i.e., far upstream, undisturbed by fire) wind profile on dry convection above a prescribed heat source of an intensity and spatial scale comparable to a wildfire. Dimensional analysis of the fire-atmosphere problem provides two relevant parameters: a surface buoyancy parameter that addresses the amount of heat a parcel of air receives in transiting above the fire and an advection parameter that addresses the degree to which the environmental wind advects updrafts away from the fire. Two-dimensional simulations are performed in which the upstream surface wind speed and mixed layer mean wind speed are varied independently to better understand the fundamental processes governing the organizational mode and updraft strength. The result of these experiments is the identification of two primary classes of dry convection: plume and multicell. Simulated plume cases exhibit weak advection by the mean wind and are subdivided into intense plume and hybrid classes based on the degree of steadiness within the convection column. Hybrid cases contain columns of largely discrete updrafts versus the more continuous updraft column associated with the intense plume mode. Multicell cases develop with strong mixed layer advection and are subdivided into strong and weak classes based on the depth of convection. Intense plume and strong multicell (hybrid and weak multicell) cases occur when the surface buoyancy is large (small). Parcel analyses are performed to more closely examine the forcing of convection within different areas of the parameter space. The multicell (strong and weak) and intense plume modes are forced by a combination of buoyancy and dynamic pressure gradient forcing associated with the perturbation wind field, whereas the hybrid mode is forced by a combination of buoyancy and dynamic pressure gradient forcing associated with the strong background shear. The paper concludes with a discussion of the degree of nonlinearity that is likely to exist at the fire front for each of the convective modes; nonlinear fire behavior is most likely for the hybrid mode and least likely for the weak multicell mode. Knowledge of the sensitivity of the convective mode to upstream conditions can provide information about the degree of nonlinear or erratic fire behavior expected for a given wind profile upstream of the fire.

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    Kiefer, Michael T.; Parker, Matthew D.; Charney, Joseph J. 2009. Regimes of dry convection above wildfires: Idealized numerical simulations and dimensional analysis. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences. 66: 806-836.


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