Santa Ana Winds & Dust Pollution

Scientists use wind tunnels to predict health hazards.

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In the future, armed with these kinds of data, "you can go out to areas hot enough to have combusted the biotic mat, and possibly spread some stuff around to prevent dust from being blown around," he said. "You can map where the biggest sources of dust may be, and take mitigation measures."

Also, "if you know it's going to be a very windy day and the winds will be focused in an area where the biotic mat has been destroyed, you can issue health warnings, or advise people to stay indoors," he added.

As part of his research, he also has built a wind tunnel where he plans to generate Santa Ana-type wind velocities. "I'm going to go to Southern California and get soil samples, which I will burn and put in the wind tunnel," he said. "I'm going to simulate what happens after the biotic mat has been destroyed and the material is hit by wind gusts."

The idea is to calculate the wind speeds necessary to create problematic dust clouds for different levels of the biotic mat.

"When the biotic mat is present, you need really high winds to get anything going," Gabet said. "But as that biotic mat gets more and more destroyed, the wind speeds you need become less and less. If you need 80 mile-per-hour winds to get it going when the mat is there, maybe you need only 20 miles-per-hour once it is destroyed. That all plays into the predictability and our understanding of what can happen."

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