If you’ve ever gone into the woods on a windy day, you know that conditions there are drastically different than in the open. To blowing wind, trees of different sizes act like enormous roughness that disturbs the flow. Inside the canopy, flows can become incredibly complicated and many of the common techniques used by researchers no longer hold. 

You can get a sense for this complexity with the second image above, which visualizes data from a wind tunnel experiment. The gray blocks represent roughness elements – the trees of this wind-tunnel-scale forest – and the large, blue arrow shows the direction of the flow. The thin colored lines show the paths taken by particles in the flow. The lines’ colors indicate what height the trajectory began at. 

Notice how the blue and purple lines are relatively straight and oriented in the direction of the flow. This indicates that the flow here is relatively steady and uncomplicated. At the lower heights, though, especially in the green and yellow regions, the pathlines are far more twisted and complex. The flow here is turbulent, and the particles’ trajectories don’t necessarily correlate at all to the winds higher up. (Image credit: T. Japyassu and R. Shnapp et al.; research credit: R. Shnapp et al.; submitted  by Ron S.)