Analysis of small-scale convective dynamics in a crown fire using infrared video camera imagery
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Terry L. Clark; Lawrence F. Radke; Janice L. Coen; Don Middleton
Publication Year: 1999

Cataloging Information

  • atmospheric chemistry
  • biomass burning
  • boreal forest
  • Canada
  • crown fire
  • ICFME - International Crown Fire Modeling Experiment
  • ignition
  • infrared imagery
  • intensity
  • Northwest Territories
  • rate of spread
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Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: March 27, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 3789


A good physical understanding of the initiation, propagation, and spread of crown fires remains as elusive goal for fire researchers. Although some data exist that describe the fire spread rate and some qualitative aspects of wildfire behavior, none have revealed the very small timescales and spatial scales in the convective processes that may play a key role in determining both the details and the rate of fire spread. Here such a dataset is derived using data from a prescribed burn during the International Crown Fire Modeling Experiment. A gradient-based image flow analysis scheme is presented and applied to a sequence of high-frequency (0.03 s), high-resolution (0.05-0.16 m) radiant temperature images obtained by an Inframetrics ThermaCAM instrument during an intense crown fire to derive wind fields and sensible heat flux. It was found that the motions during the crown fire had energy-containing scales on the order of meters with timescales of fractions of a second. Estimates of maximum vertical heat fluxes ranged between 0.6 and 3 MW m-2 over the 4.5-min burn, with early time periods showing surprisingly large fluxes of 3 MW m-2. Statistically determined velocity extremes, using fire standard deviations from the mean, suggest that updrafts between 30 m s-1, downdrafts between -10 and -20 m s-1, and horizontal motions between 5 and 15 m s-1 frequently occurred throughout the fire. The image flow analyses indicated a number of physical mechanisms that contribute to the fire spread rate, such as the enhanced tilting of horizontal vortices leading to counterrotating convective towers with estimated vertical vorticities of 4 to 10 s-1 rotating such that air between the towers blew in the direction of fire spread at canopy height and below. The IR imagery and flow analysis also repeatedly showed regions of thermal saturation (infrared temperature > 750 degrees C), rising through convection. These regions represent turbulent bursts or hairpin vortices resulting again from vortex tilting but in the sense that the tilted vortices together to form the hairpin shape. As the vortices rise and come closer together their combined motion results in the vortex tilting forward at a relatively sharp angle, giving a hairpin shape. The development of these hairpin vortices over a range of scales may represent an important mechanism through which convection contributes to the fire spread. A major problem with the IR data analysis is understanding fully what it is that the camera is sampling, in order physically to interpret the data. The results indicate that because of the large amount of after-burning incandescent soot associated with the crown fire, the camera was viewing only a shallow depth into the flame front, and variabilities in the distribution of hot soot particles provide the structure necessary to derive image flow fields. The coherency of the derived horizontal velocities support this view because if the IR camera were seeing deep into or through the flame front, then the effect of the ubiquitous vertical rotations almost certainly would result in a random and incoherent estimates of the horizontal flow fields. Animations of the analyzed imagery showed a remarkable level of consistency in both horizontal and vertical velocity flow structures from frame to frame in support of this interpretation. The fact that the 2D image represents a distorted surface also must be taken into account when interpreting the data. Suggestion for further field experimentation, software development, and testing are discussed in the conclusions. These suggestions may further understanding on this topic and increase the utility of this type of analysis to wildfire research.

Online Link(s):
Clark, Terry L.; Radke, Lawrence F.; Coen, Janice; Middleton, Don. 1999. Analysis of small-scale convective dynamics in a crown fire using infrared video camera imagery. Journal of Applied Meteorology 38(10):1401-1420.