Sensitivity Analysis of Wind Strength

James King, Indiana University-Bloomington
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This problem set introduces univariate and bivariate sensitivity analysis using the horizontal velocity profile of the wind in Matlab. This can be easily adapted for river flow, wind chill temperature, etc.

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This is used in a research methods requirement (for BA and BS majors in Geography, BS in Environmental Science) course listed as a sophomore level (although usually taken in a student's junior or senior year). It requires a freshman level math (algebra or calculus) or equivalent.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must have a working knowledge or calculus or algebra, or have taken a computer science course. Some basic programming or familiarity with Matlab programming is required (although this could be also given as a function if the students have not required that skill). Some statistical concepts need to be covered as an introduction to this exercise, however the subject matter can be brand new.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is one exercise in a sequence leading to a final project.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goal of this exercise is to have the student conceptualize the differences in linear and non-linear sensitivities within simple models/equations. In this specific case, they are to develop an understanding of the sensitivity of the shear stress on a surface to how rough the surface is versus how fast the wind is moving.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This exercise has many higher order thinking skill goals including: development of a simple model, formulation of hypotheses and independent synthesis of ideas.

Other skills goals for this activity

Learning specific functions in Matlab.

Description and Teaching Materials

This is the distributed exercise worksheet and includes all data and instructions for the exercise. Access to the software package Matlab is required.

Sensitivity Analysis of Wind Strength (Acrobat (PDF) 75kB Jun8 14)

Also included is the m-file solution set including figures.

Bivariate sensitivity m-file script ( 5kB Jun9 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips

It is important to provide some introduction (5-10 min) to this exercise (assuming some Matlab knowledge) on the application of the wind velocity model's relation to wind erosion, the objectives of the exercise and the necessity to create good programming. However, it is essential that only a scaffolding approach is taken so students operate independently to maximize their ability to achieve the higher order thinking goals of the exercise.


There is only one solution for this exercise, but students can use different options in the programming (e.g., range of values, presentation of results) that will show the range in comprehension of the exercise.