Estimating fine-scale changes in turbulence using the movements of a flapping flier

J R Soc Interface. 2022 Nov;19(196):20220577. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2022.0577. Epub 2022 Nov 9.


All animals that operate within the atmospheric boundary layer need to respond to aerial turbulence. Yet little is known about how flying animals do this because evaluating turbulence at fine scales (tens to approx. 300 m) is exceedingly difficult. Recently, data from animal-borne sensors have been used to assess wind and updraft strength, providing a new possibility for sensing the physical environment. We tested whether highly resolved changes in altitude and body acceleration measured onboard solo-flying pigeons (as model flapping fliers) can be used as qualitative proxies for turbulence. A range of pressure and acceleration proxies performed well when tested against independent turbulence measurements from a tri-axial anemometer mounted onboard an ultralight flying the same route, with stronger turbulence causing increasing vertical displacement. The best proxy for turbulence also varied with estimates of both convective velocity and wind shear. The approximately linear relationship between most proxies and turbulence levels suggests this approach should be widely applicable, providing insight into how turbulence changes in space and time. Furthermore, pigeons were able to fly in levels of turbulence that were unsafe for the ultralight, paving the way for the study of how freestream turbulence affects the costs and kinematics of animal flight.

PMID:36349445 | DOI:10.1098/rsif.2022.0577


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