Particle-image velocimetry measurements of flow over interacting barchan dunes

Jessica A. Palmer, Ricardo Mejia-Alvarez, James L. Best, Kenneth T. Christensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Barchan dunes are crescentic planform-shaped dunes that are present in many natural environments, and may occur either in isolation or in groups. This study uses high-resolution particle-image velocimetry (PIV) experiments using fixed-bed models to examine the effects of barchan dune interaction upon the flow field structure. The barchan dune models were created from an idealized contour map, the shape and dimensions of which were based upon previous empirical studies of dune morphology. The experimental setup comprised two, co-axially aligned, barchan dune models that were spaced at different distances apart. In this paper, two volumetric ratios (V r, upstream dune: downstream dune) of 1.0 and 0.175 were examined. Models were placed in a boundary-layer wind tunnel and flow quantification was achieved via PIV measurements of the mean and turbulent flow field in the streamwise-wall-normal plane, along the centerline of the barchan(s), at an average flow Reynolds number of 59,000. The presence of an upstream barchan dune induces a ''sheltering effect'' on the flow. Flow on the stoss side of the downstream dune is controlled by the developing internal boundary layer from the upstream dune, as well as by the turbulent flow structures shed from the free shear layer of the upstream dune leeside. At both volumetric ratios, enhanced turbulence is present over the downstream barchan dune leeside, which is proposed to be caused by the interaction of shear layers from the upstream and downstream dunes. Both the size and magnitude of the shear layer formed in the leeside of the upstream dune control this interaction, together with the proximity of this shear layer to the stoss side of the downstream dune. Proper orthogonal decomposition (POD) analysis shows that the distribution of turbulent kinetic energy is shifted to higher modes (i.e., smaller spatial scales) over interacting barchan dunes, which also reflects the role of the leeside free shear layer in dominating the flow field by generation, or redistribution, of TKE to smaller scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)809-829
Number of pages21
JournalExperiments in Fluids
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computational Mechanics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes


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