Air Quality Modeling at CHPC

Collaboration between the Utah Division of Air Quality (UDAQ) and the University of Utah's Center for High Performance Computing (CHPC) now gives the air quality modeling group at UDAQ access to advanced computing resources. This cooperative agreement began with a request from the Utah office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for consultation on air quality modeling to support environmental impact analysis needed to process natural gas drilling permits in the Uintah Basin. This collaboration between UDAQ and CHPC is now a critical element in UDAQ's ability to conduct air quality modeling for a wide variety of applications throughout the state, from the urbanized Wasatch Front to energy production areas of the Uintah Basin.

Air quality scientists at UDAQ have been doing regional air quality modeling for over 12 years to support efforts to improve air quality along the Wasatch Front. Since these models are run multiple times to assess the effect of different pollution control strategies, a significant amount of computational power to complete in a reasonable amount of time is required. UDAQ has used its own in-house computer resources to run the models for the State Implementation Plan for PM2.5 in northern Utah. However, with the large increase in computer processing and disc storage space afforded by CHPC, large scale air quality simulations over the state of Utah can be run in about one-fifth the time required in the past. This capability will allow UDAQ to assist and analyze other air quality projects of interest to the state of Utah.

While high performance computer hardware is an important part of this work, the limited number of staff with the knowledge to set up and interpret the information also limits the number of projects that can be undertaken. CHPC provides computer support personnel to solve problems in the setup of the specialized computer programs used by UDAQ. This support, plus the day to day system administration that CHPC provides, allows the UDAQ scientists to spend their time working in the area that they know best.

Currently, outside of the PM2.5 modeling being done along the Wasatch Front and in Cache County, there is need for a better understanding of the causes of episodic increases of wintertime ozone in the oil and gas producing region of the Uintah Basin. An air quality model that simulates winter ozone formation will be used to quantify the effectiveness of mitigation strategies and to tailor an emissions reduction program that is appropriate for the Uintah Basin. This modeling framework will rely on the data collected from studies in the Basin as well as state-of-the-science meteorological model output. This meteorological modeling, focused on the northeastern section of the state, will begin this fall and preliminary air quality modeling will begin early next year. Working with the Regional Modeler for EPA Region-8, UDAQ will complete an initial modeling simulation of winter air pollution in the Uintah Basin. The model results will be compared to field measurements taken during the 2011 Winter Ozone Study as a means of testing the validity of the model to predict ozone concentrations.

There is also multi-agency cooperative agreement among state and federal regulatory agencies to assess the environmental impact of oil and gas development in the region of northeast Utah, northwest Colorado and southwest Wyoming. The addition of the computational capabilities will allow UDAQ to both contribute meaningful technical resources to the project as well as take advantage of the additional research and data that will result from this regional study.