Scientists have developed a laboratory wherein they can create hurricanes with just a flip of a switch.
Named the Surge Structure Atmosphere Interaction, or Sustain, the laboratory located in the University of Miami was created to help researchers determine what causes certain hurricanes to gain strength and grow in magnitude to catastrophic levels.
Within the Sustain laboratory is a clear acrylic tank that measures 75 feet in length and 6.5 feet in height. Within the tank is 38,000 gallons of seawater that can be pushed into creating white-capped waves through a 1,700-horsepower fan. The set-up is able to create storm conditions of up to Category 5, with the wind speeds within the laboratory reaching 157 miles per hour.
Satellite sensors are placed on the high ceilings of the Sustain laboratory, allowing researchers to look down from above at the hurricane simulation in the acrylic tank. According to Brian Haus, the Sustain lab director, this would help in fine tuning satellites that monitor real hurricanes.
The set-up allows researchers to study the interaction between the high-speed winds of hurricanes with sea spray that comes from the water's surface, which would lead to improvements in the real-time observations of satellites and other devices that are launched from aircraft that monitor hurricanes.
Hurricanes are known to be gather power from ocean waters with warm temperatures, but there are certain aspects of the tropical storms that are still unknown by scientists. This is because it is near impossible to see the interactions between the winds of the storm and the surface of the water.
Some efforts currently being utilized to take a closer look at these interactions include sending in drones to fly into the locations, releasing sensors embedded in underwater gliders and buoys and using satellites. However, these tools are all prone to experiencing technical difficulties due to the extreme weather conditions.
All these are being done because scientists believe that the interactions between the storm winds and the water surface transfers energy to the storm from the ocean. Understanding the interaction could help researchers understand what causes some storms to fizzle out and what causes some to grow into epic proportions.
The efforts in the Sustain lab will help researchers in understanding the phenomenon. In addition, observations in the lab will be important in improving how the intensity of incoming storms are forecasted, according to National Hurricane Center director Rick Knabb.
Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Flickr