From thunderstorms to moon terrains, computer modeling research addresses real-world issues

How UW researchers are applying computers to solve real-world problems

By Michaela Kihntopf, The Badger Herald

In an age where computers are commonplace, two University of Wisconsin professors are harnessing their power to run simulations of real world scenarios.

Professor Leigh Orf has been using computer models to better understand thunderstorms for over 30 years. He works to understand how thunderstorms behave, how they work and how to better predict them. Orf said there are many things scientists still do not understand about what goes on within a thunderstorm, but using supercomputers to model them can add new clarity to their inner workings — even at very small scales.

“I use an atmospheric model that simulates a cloud at really really high fidelity, high quality, high resolution. So all the small scale complex things that go on inside the cloud are revealed in the simulation,” Orf said.

Orf said prior events are often inspirations for simulations in his work. Orf also emphasized field meteorology is very important, since atmospheric and physical information from a storm cannot be collected any other way. From one particular storm, he obtained the atmospheric data collected right before the storm formed and ran it as a simulation, which then successfully produced the thunderstorm and subsequent tornado that occurred in the actual event. Read more …