Sonic anemometers use sonic waves to measure atmospheric wind at high frequency and in several dimensions (click image to enlarge)
For the first time, fine detail about the wind and wave conditions around the coast of Qatar has been recorded. By arranging the most sophisticated equipment available on the edge of a 500-meter pier extending into the Gulf, a research team at Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) has collected detailed readings of air and wave currents around the peninsula. Their findings highlight a dearth of information on coastal conditions that have the potential to offer vital insights into many sectors.
“The actual research started in trying to understand the relationship between the wind and waves,” said Dr. Reza Sadr, Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at TAMUQ. “Why do we need this? Because there are very poor models to track wind current and predict ocean waves, and this information affects, among other things, marine life, the offshore oil and gas industry and renewable energy initiatives.”
Around the world, the methods for measuring the patterns of wind and waves, also known as the atmospheric surface layer (ASL), are so far based on weather and wind models combined with analysis of the ocean dynamics. Dr. Sadr said that these models, however, need to be fortified with more sophisticated data and analysis for each region in the globe.
“The US navy is studying this, as are oil companies, but the data available is not high quality. One thing that we know so far, however, is that the patterns around the world are different. The North Sea is different than the Atlantic Ocean, which is different than the Gulf of Mexico—even within the Atlantic Ocean there are differences, from, say, Cuba and then up toward New York City and Boston. Knowing this, we understand how critical it is to characterize the conditions for each place, specifically.”
The team’s study was supported by a QNRF National Priorities Research Program grant and was the first of its kind in Qatar and the Gulf at large. As a sophisticated look at ASL—involving continuous data collection for nearly six months—it lays the foundation for evaluating these factors in the region. Using devices (sonic anemometers) that rely on sonic waves to measure atmospheric wind at high frequency and in several dimensions, Dr. Sadr and his team were able to study fluctuations in wind movement in the midst of high temperatures and humidity, from June through November, in Qatar.
Most of their measurements fell into a normal range relative to other regions around the world; however, there were a few differences.
“We see that some readings are unique, and this could be due to regional effects, like climate and geometry,” Dr. Sadr said. “This is a unique geometry in the Gulf. In fact, each place is unique.”
Such data on wind, and its impact on waves, would contribute greatly to the oil and gas industry as it increasingly moves offshore, Dr. Sadr said. The data would additionally serve the aviation industry as Qatar positions itself increasingly as a regional flight hub, with its massive new international airport scheduled to open in the near future. As the nation looks seriously into renewable wind energy, the applications become obvious as well.
Windmills powering student housing in Education City, Doha
“Qatar has already begun to invest in wind energy. To support this, we are looking deeply into turbulence,” Dr. Sadr said. “Turbulence is like a black box to us. People have been modeling it and studying it for the last 60 years with no major breakdown that offers accurate solutions. Turbulence has to be specifically modeled for each case, meaning the model has to relate to the exact location or system. You need to know the general behavior of the system if you even want to model it.”
So far, most of the weather information here comes from satellites, Dr. Sadr explained. But this information is basic, lacking details that deeper studies, such as his team's, captured. It’s critical to get location-specific, high quality data in Qatar, especially considering hazards related to the region’s ubiquitous oil and gas industry.
“The second most important thing is pollution,” Dr. Sadr said. “With all the refineries, all these plumes of pollution—how is it dispersed in the environment? There is a flame and a flare of burning gases. How is it affected, and where is it dispersed? If there is an accident, like ones that have happened in other parts of the world, how is it going to disperse? In an emergency, this information helps us calculate how long pollutants would take to thin out to levels that don’t harm humans, which helps us design storage areas.”
The team has published part of its findings on the wind and wave conditions surrounding Qatar and is now moving on to study coastal conditions including the relationship between land and sea.
“Coastline is one of the things that hasn’t been looked at properly in this region. How do these reclaimed projects, for example, affect the coastline and the marine life? Natural coastlines have been formed over hundreds and thousands of years. Now we are meddling with it, so the effects of this and the general conditions along the coastline are worth studying.”
In the end, Dr. Sadr hopes that the work his team has conducted so far will be the impetus for a permanent monitoring station in Qatar. This kind of data would allow researchers to go into greater depth and create more innovative models around wind and waves. Such structures exist around the world, he said, and offer valuable insights into the atmosphere and its state over the long term.
“We’re talking about a platform, anchored into the sea bed and situated out in the ocean,” Dr. Sadr said, “steady, stable and permanently monitoring the wind and waves from an area of some depth. We haven’t collected anything close here in this region. Nobody knows. We hope our work helps encourage the government to invest in this technology.”
Design and setup of experimental facility for atmospheric study