Monday, November 24, 2008

EPA facility measures air pollution with scale models

Becca Writes:

Last week I visited the NOAA / EPA Fluid Modeling Facility with my Focus Program group. The purpose of this facility is to better understand atmospheric dispersion of pollutants. For that reason, the scientists at the FMF build huge scale models of buildings, towns, and cities to evaluate atmospheric dispersion under very specific conditions. They place a model in a large wind tunnel machine, a device that simulates air currents in the atmosphere. Theatrical smoke is emitted at a certain point, and its dispersion through the wind tunnel is measured and analyzed.

We observed an experiment designed to test how air pollutants disperse from highways, specifically, a highway outside Las Vegas that cuts underneath a railroad track. To better demonstrate the flow of air, the lights were turned off and a laser was pointed at the point of release. This allowed us to see the many swirls and eddies of the dispersing pollution.

Interestingly, by adding a high-rise building to the immediate left of the highway, the air flow dynamic changed and pollutants were stirred up much more. One can obviously see the benefits of this type of modeling in determining the dispersion of pollutants.

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