About two years ago, Brian Haus, the chair of the Division of Applied Marine Physics at the University of Miami, was studying storms in the western Pacific ocean, off the coast of Taiwan. He and his team are chasing hurricanes. Sometimes the hurricanes completely miss the sensor-packed buoys placed in their path to track power and speed. Sometimes they don't.
This time, the researchers got lucky. Not one, but two super typhoons hit their equipment at the same time. Even luckier, most of their gear managed to not break apart. He and his team waited for the storms to subside before they left port to retrieve their recording devices. But before they could recover the buoys, one storm, named Chaba, defied the forecasts. Instead of losing strength, it headed right for them at full power. Haus and his fellow researchers found themselves enduring nine days of "most uncomfortable" 30-foot swells.
SUSTAIN Cambridge Seven
Last month, the University of Miami broke ground on the 45-million-dollar Marine Technology & Life Sciences Seawater Complex, which will house a tool that will give Haus and other scientists studying storms more steady, predictable, and controllable access to an important resource in their work--the hurricanes themselves.
The hurricane simulation tool, which is named SUSTAIN (short for SUrge-STructure-Atmosphere Interaction) is a tempest in a teapot the size of a small house. When it's completed, it'll be unique in its ability to create category-5 level hurricanes inside of a lab, across a 3-D field of waves made of real sea water pumped into the building at 1,000 gallons per minute.
With it, scientists will be able to better understand the process by which hurricanes are fueled by warm water.
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We know that hurricanes grow in power when they pass over deep warm water, and mellow out when they pass over colder areas. But we don't know much about the actual process of this energy transfer on the molecular level. By using salt water, the simulator more accurately creates sea spray and foam, which are believed to affect its evaporation into the atmosphere. And for the moment, how much heat is transferred directly and how much is transferred by evaporation is completely unknown. By simulating different kinds of waves and wind conditions, some with more and less spray, the scientists can measure the air and water temperature shifts using thermisters to model the delta in heat transfers when there's varying amounts of spray.
Knowing how this process fuels hurricanes will allow scientists and meteorologists to build smarter models of them, so we can forecast them with more accuracy. And its not possible, or easy, or safe to make these observations in the field. He says, "At sea, you have to deal with the real beast, but in the lab, we have the opportunity to create the hurricane when and how we want it."
The hurricane simulator and SUSTAIN is being designed by Cambridge Seven, the cross-functional architecture and engineering firm which got its start by winning the bid to create the New England Aquarium 50 years ago by being the only firm to mention fish in their pitch. Peter Sollogub, Associate Principal at Cambridge Seven, says the hurricane simulator is comprised of three major components: