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Flow processes and turbulent exchange in urban canopies

  • Full or part time
    Dr J Barlow
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Most of the world’s population now experiences an urban version of weather extremes and climate change. Accurate forecasting of weather and air quality in cities relies on correctly representing the physics of turbulent exchange between the surface and the overlying atmosphere. Each building produces a complex flow but by treating their effect collectively as an “urban canopy”, relatively simple models can be formulated. The problem lies in understanding how urban heterogeneity affects flow processes: how does the heat flux change from tall vs small buildings? What if sun heats one side of the street and not the other? Does a single tall building dominate surface drag?

This project will explore flow processes around buildings to develop an urban canopy model suitable for numerical weather prediction. The project would adapt a modelling approach developed for vegetation canopies for application to urban canopies. New wind tunnel experiments would be done to investigate flows for more realistic heated building layouts.

This project has a CASE award from the UK Met Office. The current urban surface scheme (MORUSES) in the Unified Model is coupled to the model at a single level: effectively, the buildings are flat. Urban areas contain increasingly large buildings that can occupy a significant fraction of the boundary layer, for which a single, surface prediction is inadequate and ill-defined. A key part of the UKMO urban modelling strategy is thus to develop a vertically distributed scheme that captures momentum and scalar exchange throughout the depth of the urban canopy. For the first time this will allow “within-street” forecasts of wind, temperature, pollution, etc.
MORUSES was developed to represent urban canopy heat fluxes in a simplified way. The concept behind the scheme is based on a 2D street canyon, consisting of building wake and “non-wake” areas of the flow. The turbulent exchange scheme within MORUSES was developed for a neutral flow regime and validated using wind tunnel modelling of heat fluxes from street canyons. Moving from a 2D to a3D framework is a necessary step to modelling real urban areas.

Windtunnel experiments for heated buildings would be done at the EnFloResearch Centreat the University of Surrey. Model facets –streets, walls, roofs –would be heated and heat fluxes measured using fast response sensors and an infra-red camera. By heating the models to relatively low temperatures in moderate flows, heat acts as a passive scalar. The objective would be to explore the impact of different configurations (3D building layout, heating patterns) on turbulent exchange. This methodology has already been used to study vegetation canopies, and street canyons. Heating the models to higher temperatures causes additional buoyant mixing. Windtunnel inlet conditions can also be varied to simulate convective and stable boundary layers above the buildings.

Training opportunities:
This project is in collaboration with the Met Office, the UK’s national weather service. The student will spend at least three months at the Met Office during the project. In addition, the student will do experiments at EnFlo at the University of Surrey, a unique windtunnel facility in the UK and one of the few atmospheric boundary layer windtunnels in the world.

You can find a short video of Janet Barlow talking about this project on YouTube:

Funding Notes

This project is available to students with their own funding.

Applicants should hold or expect to gain a minimum of a 2:1 Bachelor Degree, Masters Degree with Merit, or equivalent in (ideally) mathematics or a closely related environmental or physical science.

How good is research at University of Reading in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 75.68

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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