While the east coast of the United States is recovering from torrential Hurricane Sandy, the Rosensteil School of Marine & Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) at the University of Miami in Florida is building a hurricane simulator called SUSTAIN (SUrge-STructure-Atmosphere INteraction) research facility. This facility will be the first of its kind. It will be able to simulate wind, wave, and storm surges created by the most powerful 150mph hurricane winds. A 1400 horsepower fan will be used to create the massive Category 5 (150mph winds). Salt water will be pumped into the facility at 1,000 gallons per minute to create 3D directional waves. Paddles, 12 in all, will be used to generate different size waves creating conditions from calm to choppy. The tank is 6m wide (almost 20ft), 20m long (a little over 65ft) and 2m deep (6 ½ft).
By using models of bridges, skyscrapers, and other man-made as well as nature-made structures, the SUSTAIN tank will be able to determine the effect of hurricanes on land. Hurricanes are driven by warm air and their energy is depleted once they encounter cold air. Some of this warm air comes from water vapor caused by the evaporation of sprays in the ocean. However, not much is known about how much the warm air from waves drives hurricanes. The SUSTAIN tank will measure how much ocean water vapor affects a hurricane’s force and movement. The different variations of wave size give off different measures of evaporation. Using an instrument called a thermistor; researchers will be able to measure the change in temperature provided by the varying waves. This will allow scientists to better predict the movement and intensity of hurricanes.