Micro Meteorology

By Megan Johnson, NCSA
An image of a brightly colored pinwheel under blue skies. The pinwheel, a small lawn ornament that catches the wind and spins, is meant to convey the idea of extremely local weather, like the weather in your backyard.

If you’ve ever lived or worked at a large campus, perhaps you’ve heard rumors about certain areas being extremely windy. Maybe one of the quads is known for bitterly cold breezes, and others are calm and quiet. You might be tempted to believe that the very buildings around you are causing this to happen. Your suspicions just might turn out to be true.

Atmospheric turbulence doesn’t just affect planes in the sky. Turbulence is everywhere – it’s in that windy spot between two tall buildings in the city; it’s on that open quad in the middle of campus; it’s on the lakeshore where you’ve found the perfect place to fly a kite. But as researchers from Columbia University’s Environmental Flow Physics Lab (EFPL) will attest, it’s very hard to predict what effects turbulence has on small-scale climates. 

Most predictive formulas and models don’t scale down well enough to accurately predict how things like buildings and landscaping might affect turbulence. That’s where the work of the EFPL comes into play. Marco Giometto, a civil engineering professor at Columbia University, heads up the EFPL. “We are a computational fluid dynamics group,” said Giometto. “We develop high-fidelity numerical algorithms for the simulation of turbulent transport phenomena in the atmosphere, and derive theories that describe the underlying physics controlling such processes”

EFPL used the U.S. National Science Foundation’s ACCESS program to facilitate their research. Using the computing power of Anvil at Purdue’s Rosen Center for Advanced Computing, Giometto’s group has created a model that more accurately predicts atmospheric turbulence on small-scale climes, like those found in a neighborhood or even around a single building. “Models we are developing are tailored to be accurate at the 10-meter scale and can therefore help answer questions related to ethics, like ‘Why is this street so much warmer than that street?’” said Giometto.

EFPL’s work has a surprising impact on even everyday life events. For instance, if you knew certain landscaping could affect wind flow around your house, you might be able to make a few small changes that would lower your electric bill. 

“Our research not only helps improve our ability to forecast weather and climate variability but also to understand how weather impacts our everyday life,” said Giometto. “Weather results are typically at a very coarse resolution, so our model can be used to downscale the wind and determine where wind gusts might happen. They can help better understand how if you place trees in a certain location, how that will affect the local airflow, and how that might benefit the energy usage of buildings or heat in that street. It also helps us better understand how urban geometry affects the ‘urban heat island effect’ [cities heat up more than rural surroundings] and how we can design cities that are more resilient and sustainable in their use of resources.”

If you’d like to know more about how the EFPL is using cyberinfrastructure to study atmospheric turbulence, you can read the original article here: Anvil helps researchers study land-atmosphere interaction processes.

Project Details

Resource Provider Institution(s): Rosen Center for Advanced Computing (RCAC)
Affiliations: Columbia University
Funding Agency: This project is allocated under award No. ATM180022. Anvil is funded under NSF award No. 2005632.
Grant or Allocation Number(s): ATM180022

The science story featured here was enabled by the ACCESS program, which is supported by National Science Foundation grants #2138259, #2138286, #2138307, #2137603, and #2138296.

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