A Statistical Evaluation of WRF-LES Trace Gas Dispersion Using Project Prairie Grass Measurements

Alex Rybchuk, Caroline Alden, Julie Lundquist, Gregory Rieker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In recent years, new measurement systems have been deployed to monitor and quantify methane emissions from the natural gas sector. Large-eddy simulation (LES) has complemented measurement campaigns by serving as a controlled environment in which to study plume dynamics and sampling strategies. However, with few comparisons with controlled-release experiments, the accuracy of LES for modeling natural gas emissions is poorly characterized. In this paper, we evaluate LES from the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model against Project Prairie Grass campaign measurements and surface layer similarity theory. Using WRF-LES, we simulate continuous emissions from 30 near-surface trace gas sources in two stability regimes: strong convection and weak convection. We examine the impact of grid resolutions ranging from 6.25 to 52 m in the horizontal dimension on model results. We evaluate performance in a statistical framework, calculating fractional bias and conducting Welch’s t tests. WRF-LES accurately simulates observed surface concentrations at 100 m and beyond under strong convection; simulated concentrations pass t tests in this region irrespective of grid resolution. However, in weakly convective conditions with strong winds, WRF-LES substantially overpredicts concentrations—the magnitude of fractional bias often exceeds 30%, and all but one t test fails. The good performance of WRF-LES under strong convection correlates with agreement with local free convection theory and a minimal amount of parameterized turbulent kinetic energy. The poor performance under weak convection corresponds to misalignment with Monin–Obukhov similarity theory and a significant amount of parameterized turbulent kinetic energy.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1619-1633
Number of pages15
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5000-77256


  • emissions
  • large-eddy simulation
  • measurement
  • Weather Research and Forecasting Model


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