CANADA: New tunnel to model extreme weather

A Canadian university is to build a hexagonal wind tunnel that will for the first time allow simulation of tornadoes and other high-intensity wind systems.

The University of Western Ontario will build the C$23.6 million (US$23 million) facility at a newly established advanced manufacturing park in its home city of London in Ontario.

Known as the Wind Engineering, Energy and Environment (WindEEE) Dome, it will be the world's first hexagonal wind tunnel.

The tunnel will be 40 metres across with a matrix of more than 100 fans, each about a metre in diameter. Together, they will be able to generate winds of up to 100 kilometres per hour.

The system will be able to simulate tornadoes, downbursts and gust fronts that cannot be created in any existing wind tunnels.

Construction will begin late in the northern hemisphere autumn and it should be operational by June 2012.

The WindEEE Dome's principal investigator is engineering professor Horia Hangan whose research focuses on wind tunnel simulations to study wakes, boundary layers, jets and tornado-like vortices.

Hangan's work will further understanding of wind flow, wind energy, pollution dispersion, and how winds affect structures such as buildings and bridges.

"We anticipate that researchers and industrial partners across the country and internationally will find a home in WindEEE and that together we will find new ways to enhance the wind's creative energy and ways to dissipate its destructive nature," he said.

The University of Western Ontario is already home to the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel Laboratory. It runs the 'Three Little Pigs' project, where a full-scale home is exposed to simulated winds up to a category five hurricane.

It also has the world's first hypobaric bird wind tunnel that allows the study of bird behaviour, physiology and neurobiology.