Assessment of Updraft Modeling Bias Using Computational Fluid Dynamics

Regis Thedin, Eliot Quon, David Brandes, Rimple Sandhu, Charles Tripp, Michael Lawson, Todd Katzner, Chris Farmer, Tricia Miller, Adam Duerr, Missy Braham

Research output: NRELPresentation


Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) habitats may overlap with wind energy development in some regions of the US. Eagles, and similar soaring bird species, are therefore at risk of collision with wind turbines when flying through wind farms. Recently developed behavioral modeling approaches can predict the presence of eagles near turbines within the rotor-swept layer but require reliable prediction of atmospheric flowfield conditions. In particular, the vertical component of the wind speed dictates a soaring bird's ability to maintain or gain altitude, since they rely on updrafts to subsidize their flight. In this work, we investigate the atmospheric conditions around a wind farm in complex terrain and compare methods for atmospheric characterization. We use computational fluid dynamics (specifically, large-eddy simulations, or LES) to simulate the atmospheric boundary layer over a region encompassing multiple wind farms with high temporal and spatial resolution (seconds and 10's of meters, respectively). We compare traditional non-simulation-based methods of determining the orographic updraft potential based on wind direction, terrain slope and aspect, with the flowfields from LES that include both orographic updrafts alone and combined thermal and orographic updrafts. Preliminary analysis suggests that although the model captures the horizontal pattern of vertical updrafts, their magnitude can be improved with information about the surface heat flux, which is usually correlated with time of the day. Within our study region, we found that the low-fidelity model may over- or underestimate updraft potential by up to 400% at 80 m AGL, depending on local orographic features. This can result in an inaccurate representation of eagle presence and, consequently, risk. Another important finding is that flowfield time-averaging can hide important details about the flight environment, including how thermally generated flow structures within the atmospheric boundary layer (e.g., convective rolls and/or cells) may be important drivers of eagle flight.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages15
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

NamePresented at the Raptor Research Foundation 2021 Annual Conference, 9-12 October 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5000-81235


  • atmospheric turbulence
  • complex terrain
  • computational fluid dynamics
  • orographic updrafts
  • wind-wildlife interactions


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