Predicting the roughness length of turbulent flows over landscapes with multi-scale microtopography

Jon D. Pelletier, Jason P. Field

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The fully rough form of the law of the wall is commonly used to quantify velocity profiles and associated bed shear stresses in fluvial, aeolian, and coastal environments. A key parameter in this law is the roughness length, z0. Here we propose a predictive formula for z0 that uses the amplitude and slope of each wavelength of microtopography within a discrete-Fourier-transform-based approach. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling is used to quantify the effective z0 value of sinusoidal microtopography as a function of the amplitude and slope. The effective z0 value of landscapes with multi-scale roughness is then given by the sum of contributions from each Fourier mode of the microtopography. Predictions of the equation are tested against z0 values measured in ∼ 105 wind-velocity profiles from southwestern US playa surfaces. Our equation is capable of predicting z0 values to 50% accuracy, on average, across a 4 order of magnitude range. We also use our results to provide an alternative formula that, while somewhat less accurate than the one obtained from a full multi-scale analysis, has an advantage of being simpler and easier to apply.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-405
Number of pages15
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 19 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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