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Julie Pullen, Joseph Chang, and Steven Hanna

The March 2011 tragedy at the coastal Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant created a contaminant release that was transported and dispersed in both the air and the sea. Two months after the event, the authors began planning for a special July 2011 conference session (“Fukushima crisis: Air and sea transport modeling” at the 15th Annual Conference on Atmospheric Transport and Dispersion Modeling; see to draw together experts who were directly involved in the scientific modeling and decision making. The focus was on presentations describing the releases to the atmosphere and ocean, how the models performed, and how predictive modeling can effectively inform crisis decision making. This paper provides an overview of the short-range (within and near Japan) modeling conducted for the crisis and identifies some key steps that might improve the modeling response to incidents occurring in a complex coastal zone. Those steps include operational protocols to deal with source-term uncertainty, scientific approaches to addressing the linkage of air–sea source terms and their subsequent transformations, and improvements in coupled air–sea models for better prediction in coastal regions. The conference included anecdotes from those deployed in Japan and tasked to deliver and interpret plume model products. The conference presentations provide insights that could benefit emergency preparedness, response, and recovery for a similar disaster in the future. There is a need for a well-rehearsed approach to sharing plume model information among agencies and among international partners, and for scientific expertise to help interpret the operational relevance of models lacking source-term certitude.

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