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University of Miami's hurricane tank simulates storms for scientists

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Researchers from the University of Miami have started looking more closely into category five hurricanes this month. No, not by chasing them around -- they're thankfully quite rare -- but by simulating their effects inside a huge indoor tank. Oceanographers from the institute built the 66 x 20 foot tank officially called SUSTAIN or Surge-Structure-Atmosphere Interaction Facility on an island off the coast of Florida. The scientists merely have to flip a switch for the paddles inside to start churning the waters and for fans to begin mimicking howling winds -- in just few minutes, it all turns into a small-scale storm.

Earlier versions of SUSTAIN could only recreate category three hurricanes, and the same applies for other wind-wave simulators around the world. The current tank in Florida was designed to help scientists understand what happens during the strongest storms ever, where waves crash with devastating force and wind speeds exceed 158 mph. According to Nature, UM's researchers will start by finding out how oil spills disperse during a category 5 hurricane and how strong aquaculture nets for fish farms have to be to withstand one.

They might also stick miniature buildings and even a tiny Port of Miami in the tank to see how long they can remain standing while the system pummels them with exceedingly strong waves and winds. The scientists believe that data from their experiments will help improve forecasts for super strong hurricanes in the future. That, in turn, will allow the government to issue more accurate warnings and to evacuate people a lot earlier if needed.

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