The Link Between Atmosphere and Energy
The Atmosphere/Energy subprogram in Civil and Environmental Engineering, formed in 2004, combines atmospheric science with energy science and engineering. The main goals of the program are to educate students and the public, through courses, research, and public outreach, about the causes of climate, air pollution, and weather problems and methods of addressing these problems through renewable and efficient energy systems. In addition, students learn about feedbacks between the atmosphere and renewable energy systems and the effects of the current energy infrastructure on the atmosphere.
Further Employment and Research
Graduates of the program go on to work for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), companies, government agencies, public or private institutes, national research laboratories, or educational institutes. Research in the program is performed primarily at the PhD level although MS and undergraduate students can become involved in research through either a directed research course for credit, a student group (e.g., the Solar and Wind Energy Project), or by working with a company on a research topic. Below are some example topics of research performed in the program at the PhD level.
Atmospheric research in the program generally involves either laboratory work, field measurements, or three-dimensional computer modeling of the combined atmosphere, ocean, and land surface. An example of laboratory work includes measuring the properties of organic particulate matter that forms in the atmosphere. Examples of field work include measuring exposures to secondhand smoke, allergens, and emissions from building materials. Computer modeling is performed at a variety of spatial scales, from the globe down to the size of a building or smaller. Some examples of modeling studies include examining the effects of air pollution particles on clouds, rainfall, water supply, ultraviolet radiation, the stratospheric ozone layer, and climate, simulating the dispersion of toxic contaminants in an urban street canyon, studying the effects of aircraft exhaust and biomass burning on climate, studying the effects of carbon dioxide domes over cities on air pollution mortality, and studying the leading causes of global warming and their impacts.
Major focus areas of energy research include examining the resource availability of renewable energies, such as wind, solar, and wave, and studying optimal methods of combining renewable energies together to match energy supply with instantaneous demand. This type of work is generally done through a combination of data analysis, three-dimensional atmospheric computer modeling of wind, solar, wave, and hydroelectric power resources, and transmission load flow computer modeling. The research has led to the world's first wind map from data based on the height of modern wind turbines. Other energy research, performed through three-dimensional computer modeling, focuses on the effects, for example, of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on air pollution and the ozone layer and the effects of ethanol and diesel vehicles on air quality and climate. Studies also examine the feedback of wind turbines to the atmosphere and the effects of climate change on wind and solar energy resources.