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Science Wednesday: Modeling Matters—Where could it go, and how do we know?

2011 May 11

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Tanya Otte

Recently, powerful tornadoes ripped through central North Carolina. My yard, more than five miles from the nearest tornado touch-down, collected remnants of someone else’s losses: wads of insulation, fragments of ceiling tiles, a shard of vinyl siding, a shingle. It was fascinating that this debris could travel so far. Where on the path of the tornado did it come from?

In high school, we are introduced to Isaac Newton and his three laws of physics. Like many of you, I sat through it and acknowledged that this is nice to know, but I really did not appreciate the power of Newton’s laws. It turns out that those three laws are pretty important.
When something is injected into the atmosphere, it has to go somewhere. This includes debris from a tornado, exhaust from your car, “that smell” from the factory, and all other stuff regardless of its size. It may change form from interactions with water, sunlight, and other “things” in the air and/or with temperature changes. So where could it go, and how do we know?

To understand how the atmosphere moves the stuff that is put into it, scientists use “models”—collections of equations built from what we know.

Newton’s laws are three of the basic tenets of what we know for building atmospheric models. We also use other things we know, such as the composition of the atmosphere and how things in it interact with each other and with sunlight. We use measurements of weather and air quality to start our models and to check the quality of our predictions.

Models help scientists understand the complex interactions of atmospheric pollutants with weather and climate. Models are used to support regulations on emissions that protect human health and conserve resources. Thousands of scientists worldwide use models developed by the EPA to understand, predict, and reduce air pollution. Needless to say, models are rather powerful scientific tools.

I still don’t know where the debris in my yard originated, but I could use a model to figure it out.

About the author: Tanya Otte, a research physical scientist, has worked at EPA in atmospheric modeling and analysis since 1998.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    May 11, 2011

    By NASA’s Or EPA’s Or The Others ?

    ‘Till now, my obsession is seeing integration between NASA and EPA, but it is not easy. Atmosphere, weather and climate are NASA’s identified, but protect human health and conserve resources are EPA’s is. So, “Modeling Matters” could shape synergy both them….

  2. Jorge G Hipólito permalink
    May 11, 2011

    The man could adapt Newton’s Laws, the formatting of the laws
    that seek to protect nature. I think it would be easy to develop
    clean energy projects.

  3. .EDU backlinks permalink
    May 11, 2011

    This was a pretty gosh darn entertaining post!

  4. Data entry India permalink
    May 14, 2011

    very good

  5. Engagement Rings permalink
    May 18, 2011

    Nice site! Very professional and full of information.All your posts are really so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

  6. Informasi Elektro permalink
    August 28, 2013

    Really Good

  7. tips cepat hamil permalink
    August 31, 2013

    nice information . very profesional and i like it

  8. balada permalink
    September 13, 2013


  9. Mega Papua permalink
    November 7, 2013

    Very nice artcle,

  10. jaket kulit permalink
    February 17, 2014

    Thank u so much, nice article. Best Regards

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