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Large Model Scale Flow Studies

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The CRREL Environmental Wind Tunnel, located in the Ice Engineering Facility, is a low-speed wind tunnel facility well-suited for model scale atmospheric flow studies. The 2.4-meters-wide by 1.2-meters-tall test section achieves air flow velocities up to 11 meters per second (25 mph) and accommodates large-scale models. In addition to typical aerodynamics testing capabilities, this tunnel is uniquely outfitted for snow drift, using glass beads as a proxy material, and dust studies.

The CRREL wind tunnel has been used in a variety of research studies: modeling snow-drift accumulation around natural and man-made structures, devising remedial measures for snow-drift control and modeling processes of snow and dust transport, including rotorcraft induced dust cloud formation.

Success Stories/Testimonials/Examples

In 2012, the National Science Foundation (NSF) wanted to understand the impacts of changes to several elevated structures located at the Admunsen-Scott South Pole Station.  The primary concern was that clutter was being added under elevated buildings that blocked free air flow under the buildings and accelerated drift deposition, potentially shortening the building’s design life. This clutter included side ramps, equipment storage, additional stairs and conduit, and other modifications underneath the elevated structures.  All of these modifications—proposed or already in place—posed a potential risk to the long-term viability of the structures, which are designed to allow snow drifting to pass around and under the structure to avoid being permanently buried by the steady accumulation of snow from year to year. 

In just two months, CRREL researchers conducted a thorough simulation of snow drift patterns around a series of these elevated structures at the South Pole using CRREL's Environmental Wind Tunnel (see example photo).  This scaled physical modeling study served as a critical component to understanding the short- and long-term viability of the structures, demonstrating that the variety of modifications in this particular circumstance can shorten the lifespan of the structures by two to three years.  Consequently, NSF was able to understand and quantify the impacts of building modifications on station operations and planning. This wind tunnel study saved considerable time and money over trying to determine the impact using field studies and observations.

Existing Amenities

  • Primary features and capabilities of the wind tunnel:
    • Dimensions: 9.8 meter- (32 feet) long by 2.4 meter- (8 feet) wide by 1.2 meter- (4 feet) tall rectangular test section.

    • 80 micron (nominal diameter) glass beads are used at room temperature for all physical modeling involving snow. 
    • Air flow velocities up to 11 meters per second.

    • Instrumentation:

      • Hot wire and film anemometry (3 components)

      • Pitot tube anemometry (1 component)

      • Surface profilometry

      • Automated traversing mechanism enables 3-dimensional measurements of flow fields and 2-dimensional grid measurements of surface elevation

  • Contact the facility manager for a variety of methods to conduct real-time remote (or on-site) controls and monitoring through LabView.  In addition, a dedicated, secure website and other functionality are possible for remote video and photo monitoring.

Work with Us

Our capabilities and facilities are available to assist you in addressing and solving a variety of cold regions science and engineering challenges. Please consult Facility Manager Leonard Zabilansky for facility usage and rates information, which vary depending on the type of activity and support needed. The Facility Manager can also provide additional documentation. 


Marina.I.Reilly-Collette@usace.army.mil, 603.646.4130
Research Mechanical Engineer

Engineering Resources Branch (CEERD-RRE)
US Army Engineer Research and Development Center | Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory

crrel ERDC ice engineering USACE wind tunnel