, Volume 6, Issue 5, pp 425-450
Date: 27 Jun 2006

Multiscale Plume Transport from the Collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

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Abstract

The collapse of the world trade center (WTC) produced enhanced levels of airborne contaminants in New York City and nearby areas on September 11, 2001 through December, 2001. This catastrophic event revealed the vulnerability of the urban environment, and the inability of many existing air monitoring systems to operate efficiently in a crisis. The contaminants released circulated within the street canyons, but were also lifted above the urban canopy and transported over large distances, reflecting the fact that pollutant transport affects multiple scales, from single buildings through city blocks to mesoscales. In this study, ground-and space-based observations were combined with numerical weather forecast fields to initialize fine-scale numerical simulations. The effort is aimed at reconstructing pollutant dispersion from the WTC in New York City to surrounding areas, to provide means for eventually evaluating its effect on population and environment. Atmospheric dynamics were calculated with the multi-grid Regional Atmospheric Modeling System (RAMS), covering scales from 250 m to 300 km and contaminant transport was studied using the Hybrid Particle and Concentration Transport (HYPACT) model that accepts RAMS meteorological output. The RAMS/HYPACT results were tested against PM2.5 observations from the roofs of public schools in New York City (NYC), Landsat images, and Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) retrievals. Calculations accurately reproduced locations and timing of PM2.5 peak aerosol concentrations, as well as plume directionality. By comparing calculated and observed concentrations, the effective magnitude of the aerosol source was estimated. The simulated pollutant distributions are being used to characterize levels of human exposure and associated environmental health impacts.