Maximizing wind energy resources requires a detailed understanding of atmospheric flow behavior over complex topography. The objective of this research is to examine unstable flow behavior over a three-dimensional topographic model, representative of mesa terrain that is common in West Texas. The goal is to develop an understanding of how unstable atmospheric conditions caused by surface heating affect boundary layer flow patterns in the natural environment. This objective was accomplished by experimentally monitoring transient thermal behavior of narrow band liquid crystals over a scaled model. Photographic data was collected as the heated model was subjected to a cooler flow field. The transient isotherms result from cooling as the model is exposed to flow in an atmospheric boundary layer wind tunnel. Results suggest that flow patterns associated with unstable conditions can be explained by increased wind speeds on the lee side of a mesa followed by vigorous mixing causing increased cooling rates around the mesa sides. The results could be used to improve the accuracy of numerical atmospheric flow models, assess the feasibility of developing wind turbine sites, and increase the knowledge-base in order to advance wind energy forecasting techniques.

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