Atmospheric forcing and interactions between the fire and atmosphere are primary drivers of wildland fire behavior. The atmosphere is known to be a chaotic system that, although deterministic, is very sensitive to small perturbations to initial conditions. We assume that as a result of the tight coupling between fire and atmosphere; wildland fire behavior, in turn, should also be sensitive to perturbations in atmospheric initial conditions. Observations suggest that low intensity prescribed fire, in particular, is susceptible to small perturbations in the wind field, which can significantly alter fire spread. Here, we employ a computational fluid dynamics model of coupled fire-atmosphere interactions to answer the question: How sensitive is fire behavior to small variations in atmospheric turbulence? We perform ensemble simulations of fires in homogenous grass fuels. The only difference between ensemble members is the state of the turbulent atmosphere provided to the model throughout the simulation. The atmospheric state is a function of the initial conditions applied at the start of the simulation and boundary conditions applied throughout the simulation. We find a wide range of outcomes, with area burned ranging from 2,212 to 11,236 m2 (>400% change), driven primarily by sensitivity to initial conditions, with nonnegligible contributions from boundary condition variability during the initial 30 s of simulation. Our results highlight the need for ensemble simulations, especially when considering fire behavior in marginal burning conditions.
Jonko, Alexandra K.; Yedinak, Kara M.; Conley, Juliana L.; Linn, Rodman R. 2021. Sensitivity of Grass Fires Burning in Marginal Conditions to Atmospheric Turbulence. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. 126(13): e2020JD033384. https://doi.org/10.1029/2020JD033384.