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Tracking chemical processes in the atmosphere


Carbon monoxide simulated by the GEOS-Chem model

Dr Jenny Fisher from the University of Wollongong Centre for Atmospheric Chemistry is using computer modelling to understand the chemical processes happening in the atmosphere. These processes drive the dispersion of air pollution, greenhouse gases and airborne particles from cities and Australia.

Dr Fisher uses climate models as the basis of her work. She says that “we take the wind and the temperature and all the stuff that comes out of climate models and use that as inputs to look at what’s going on with the chemistry in the atmosphere.”

The NCI supercomputer is used in Dr Fisher’s work because it speeds up the data gathering and modelling stages of the research. “Chemistry is very computationally expensive to do in the atmosphere,” she says, “These integrated chemistry climate models where you actually take into account climate impacts from something like ozone, using the chemical properties, are much more computationally intensive than the climate on its own.”

This modelling work can help improve the way researchers understand air pollution in and around cities, and feeds in to the atmospheric branch of climate change studies. Comparing the model output to the readings from different kinds of instruments also allows a better understanding of how all the measurements work together.

The idea “that the choices made in one place can have an impact very far away, that the pollution can be transported really big distances and have pretty big ecological impacts somewhere else” is what originally attracted Dr Fisher to the field of air pollution and atmospheric chemistry. Now she is using supercomputers and satellites to advance her research.

“A lot of what we do would be impossible without those resources like the NCI,” she says. Ongoing projects are now aiming to combine long term measurements with the modelling, making full use of the data, the satellite instruments and the supercomputer facility.

University of Wollongong

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