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Emily Nield

Emily in front of the wind tunnelMy name is Emily Nield and I’m a geology graduate student at the University of Tennessee where I study planetary aeolian (wind) geomorphology. In our solar system, we have observed wind activity on Earth, Mars, Venus, and on Saturn’s moon Titan. It’s important to study how the wind shapes these planetary bodies because this study provides a direct link between the atmosphere and the surface, providing crucial clues to help us understand the current and past atmospheric conditions on these bodies.

Earth has an atmospheric pressure of 1 bar. Venus and Titan have atmospheric pressures greater than Earth’s. Titan is 1.5 times larger, and Venus is 90 times larger. On Earth, we understand how sand or sediment is moved by air and by water. But the atmosphere on places like Titan and Venus are very thick. The air that blows on these bodies is thicker than the air on Earth, but it’s still thinner than liquid water. It’s an in between stage, and we know very little about how sediment moves under these conditions. The goal of my research is to study how sediment is lifted off the surface by the wind on planetary bodies with thick atmospheres.

I conduct my research at the Planetary Aeolian Laboratory, at NASA Ames Research Centre, located in Mountain View, California. I use the Titan Wind Tunnel, the only high-pressure wind tunnel in the world that can move sediment, at this facility to run my experiments. I place a bed of sediment in the test section of the tunnel. The tunnel is then turned on and I can control the speed of the wind along with the air pressure inside the tunnel and take close-up videos to observe how the sediments move along the bed under these conditions.

To learn more about my research visit my YouTube Channel.

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