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Overseas Air Modeling Musings


If you've spent enough time around me you’ve likely heard me tell stories of my having worked overseas. Purely by luck I had a modeling project in Dubai fall in my lap in 2002, and since that time I’ve been to the Middle East many times. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on many interesting projects, from large modeling analyses of Dubai’s Jebel Ali industrial area to one of the “megacities” currently being built in Saudi Arabia. I even had the fun experience of developing a scope for a new project with a client while sitting in a tent in the desert enjoying tea and sweets—it was like a scene from a movie!


While the majority of my work is in the States, I do still keep in touch with partners and clients in the Middle East. A year or so ago I was part of a team that bid on a large modeling project for a regulatory agency (essentially the “EPA” of this particular place), and as part of the selection process we participated in a virtual interview (at 3:00 AM my time!) during which time I got to meet the client. Unfortunately our bid wasn’t selected, but later they reached back out to me and offered me a position with them to develop and head up their modeling group.


As interesting as that gig would have been I politely declined, saying the amount of money it would take to get me to drop Blue Sky Modeling and move away from my family (no way could I have gotten my wife to move that far away!) would be far more than they would be willing to pay.


But our discussions did get me to thinking—if I were to start a regulatory air modeling group from scratch, what would I do? Briefly, here are my thoughts:

  • Ensure regulations are in place that set the stage for modeling (this would involve working with others in the environmental agency beyond the modeling group)

    • Lean on established international regulations such as the EPA, European Union, and the World Bank

    • Make sure there are ambient air quality standards in place and that the forms of the standards are compatible with the models

    • Establish triggering “events” (e.g., large enough pollutant increases, certain types of permits) for modeling

  • Develop Modeling Guidelines

    • What models are acceptable? At the beginning I’d be inclined to lean on EPA’s list of approved models, but there are some places in the world where a non-guideline model like CALPUFF would be more appropriate than AERMOD

    • Identify sources of meteorological data; perhaps go ahead and process data and make it available for applicants (this might be very useful in some places where the expertise to develop meteorological data isn’t there yet)

  • Hire modelers (meteorologists, engineers, making sure to get at least some that went to college in the US)

  • Train modelers

    • 3rd-party training

    • Mentoring from seasoned modeler in-house

  • Educate colleagues within environmental agency on role of modeling in air pollution regulations

  • Educate stakeholders within regulated community on role of modeling in air pollution regulations (holding seminars, conferences, etc. on a regular basis would help in this regard)

It would likely take some time to really get a solid modeling program off the ground, because not only would you need to develop the capability within the regulatory agency but you’d also need to make sure that the industries/consultants in the area are able to effectively run models themselves. But for those areas that don’t have modeling integrated into their air pollution programs I think this kind of an effort would be very worthwhile because it would introduce an extremely useful regulatory tool into a region that would ultimately go a long way to improving and maintaining air quality.

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