Our climate and the air we breathe are affected by, and in turn affect, energy use and production through a complex set of processes. By analyzing those processes, we aim to gain a deeper understanding of the atmosphere and then design cleaner and more efficient energy systems, improving our health and environment and providing energy security for all.
The Atmosphere/Energy subprogram in Civil and Environmental Engineering, formed in 2004, combines atmospheric science with energy science and engineering. The program uses courses, research and public outreach to educate students and the public about the causes of climate change, air pollution and weather problems, and focuses on 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.
Our 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 is performed primarily at the PhD level, although MS and undergraduate students can become involved through a directed research course for credit, a student group or by working with a company on a research topic.
Atmospheric research involves laboratory work, field measurements or three-dimensional computer modeling of the combined atmosphere, ocean and land surface. Lab activities may include work such as measuring the properties of organic particulate matter that forms in the atmosphere. In the field, researchers’ activities may include work 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. Modeling studies may 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, or studying the leading causes of global warming and their impacts.
Our energy research focuses on examining the resource availability of renewable energies such as wind, solar and wave, and studying optimal methods of combining renewable energies 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 studies such as examining the effect of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on air pollution and the ozone layer, the effects of ethanol and diesel vehicles on air quality and climate, the feedback of wind turbines to the atmosphere and the effects of climate change on wind and solar energy resources.