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An Observational and Prognostic Numerical Investigation of Complex Terrain Dispersion

Gregory S. PoulosEarth and Environmental Sciences Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico

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James E. BossertEarth and Environmental Sciences Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico

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Abstract

The Atmospheric Studies in Complex Terrain Program conducted a field experiment at the interface of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains in the winter of 1991. Extensive meteorological observations were taken in northeastern Colorado near Rocky Flats to characterize overnight conditions in the region. Simultaneously, a tracer dispersion experiment using over 130 samplers to track plume development was conducted by Rocky Flats facility personnel. These two datasets provided an opportunity to investigate the accuracy and applicability of a fully prognostic, primitive equation, mesoscale model to the simulation of complex terrain dispersion.

Meteorological conditions in the Rocky Flats region are forecast for selected case nights using the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System initialized with sounding data taken during the experiment. The forecast winds and temperature are used in a Lagrangian particle dispersion model to predict tracer plume transport. The results of both models are compared to observations taken during the experimental period and qualitatively and quantitatively assessed. It is found that this modeling system is able to reproduce many features of the observed meteorology and dispersion for four overnight cases. Quantitatively, maximum ground concentrations are generally found to be within a factor of 2 of observations and located radially within approximately 50° of azimuth of the observed location. Additional model sensitivity simulations define the role of local terrain features on Rocky Flats area dispersion and indicate the need for improved model initialization techniques when multiple data sources are available. These experiments reveal a promising future for the application of prognostic mesoscale models to emergency response problems in regions of complex terrain.

Abstract

The Atmospheric Studies in Complex Terrain Program conducted a field experiment at the interface of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains in the winter of 1991. Extensive meteorological observations were taken in northeastern Colorado near Rocky Flats to characterize overnight conditions in the region. Simultaneously, a tracer dispersion experiment using over 130 samplers to track plume development was conducted by Rocky Flats facility personnel. These two datasets provided an opportunity to investigate the accuracy and applicability of a fully prognostic, primitive equation, mesoscale model to the simulation of complex terrain dispersion.

Meteorological conditions in the Rocky Flats region are forecast for selected case nights using the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System initialized with sounding data taken during the experiment. The forecast winds and temperature are used in a Lagrangian particle dispersion model to predict tracer plume transport. The results of both models are compared to observations taken during the experimental period and qualitatively and quantitatively assessed. It is found that this modeling system is able to reproduce many features of the observed meteorology and dispersion for four overnight cases. Quantitatively, maximum ground concentrations are generally found to be within a factor of 2 of observations and located radially within approximately 50° of azimuth of the observed location. Additional model sensitivity simulations define the role of local terrain features on Rocky Flats area dispersion and indicate the need for improved model initialization techniques when multiple data sources are available. These experiments reveal a promising future for the application of prognostic mesoscale models to emergency response problems in regions of complex terrain.

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