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What is Attenuation?

Debra Bacon
Debra Bacon

Attenuation, the diminishing or reduction of something in thickness, density, or force occurs naturally. In engineering, the shaping of a substance into a thin, narrow arrangement, as in optical fibers, is also a form of attenuation. These optical fibers allow light, sound, electrical signals and computer data to be carried at the speed of light, but as the signals pass through other objects, and begin to disperse a weakening of effect occur.

The lessening of the light as it travels through a fiber optic cable, or loss in transmission from a waning signal to a computer or radio, is natural. Often signals for computers and radios are enhanced by the use of boosters or routers to reproduce sound and signal, but not stop attenuation. Attenuation is commonly measured in decibels (dB) per linear measure by which something is transferred, as in electromagnetic rays of light or other delineated beams and signals. Earthquakes seismic activity is measured in the same way.

The process of natural attenuation is generally related to environmental engineering. It is measured in, and occurs in, different ways. Evaporation, dilution, absorption, and bioremediation are ways natural attenuation takes place.

Scientist with beakers
Scientist with beakers

In some cases, experts rely on the environmental processes that occur naturally to clean up or attenuate sites where hazardous materials are introduced. There are times the process must be monitored, because of the contamination by hazardous materials released into the air, soil, or groundwater. Monitoring generally begins once the cause of the contamination has been removed, such as an underground storage tank, used for heating oils or petroleum storage. The task of cleaning a hazardous waste site requires specialization, so an environmental engineering firm would become involved to ensure natural attenuation is adequate.

Environmental engineers and scientists design and construct systems for removal, remediation, and monitoring of the air, soil, and groundwater in and around sites required to be monitored. The engineering of equipment to measure various types of attenuation requires a combination of experiences. These cover the gamut of scientific disciplines.

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