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Photos Credit: Georgia Aquarium

The following article was published in ASHRAE Journal, June 2007.

Copyright 2007 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and
Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. It is presented for educational
purposes only. This article may not be copied and/or distributed
electronically or in paper form without permission of ASHRAE.

The Age of
By Patrick E. Halm P.E., Life Member ASHRAE

for river otters, how do you control humidity to keep visitors from

sultant. The system exhausts more than

120,000 cfm (56 634 L/s) from any one
of five major galleries or from the central
plaza while supplying more than 100,000
cfm (47 195 L/s) to keep all other galleries smoke-free to a point 10 ft (3 m) above
the floor, if a fire were to occur.

feeling like theyre swimming with the fish? That was only one

Mechanical Systems

t an aquarium with an underwater tunnel for viewing whale

sharks, habitats for Georgia coastal wildlife, and playgrounds

challenge faced when designing the HVAC systems for Atlantas

Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world.
One of many challenges the designers
dealt with while providing heating and
cooling systems for the new Georgia
Aquarium was to control building humidity in a 1.5 million ft3 (42 475 m3) room
that houses a 6 million gallon (22 712
kL) tank with more than one-half acre
(0.2 ha) of surface area of water warmed
to 77F (25C). To offset the continuous
moisture released by this large body of
water, the design team provided for many
high-velocity jets to deliver conditioned

ASHRAE Journal

air high in the space. This rapidly induces

room air and keeps humidity from reaching levels high enough to condense on
the skylight, or the steel roof and roof
Another challenge was integrating
heating and cooling systems with an interactive smoke control system for more
than 500,000 ft2 (46 451 m2) of space.
The design provided systems to respond
to the concepts developed and modeled
by the projects fire and life-safety

The mechanical systems were selected by

considering efficiency, economy, reliability,
flexibility and maintainability of the equipment. The overall capacities are:
3,600 tons (12 661 kW) of refrigeration;
21 rooftop units circulating 450,000
cfm (212 376 L/s) with more than
60% outside air (more than 700 hp
[522 kW]);
38 exhaust systems removing 350,000
cfm (165 181 L/s) (including 220,000
About the Author
Patrick E. Halm is associate partner and supervising engineer at Syska Hennessy Group in
Cambridge, Mass.

June 2007


cfm [103 828 L/s] for smoke exhaust)

(more than 200 hp [149 kW]);
37 pumps with capacity for 16,560
gpm (1045 L/s) (more than 700 hp
[522 kW]); and
3,200 control points.

Design Criteria
Outdoor Conditions

The aquarium is located in Atlanta

where the design conditions are 93F
DB/75F WB (34C DB/24C WB) in
the summer and 18F (8C) in the winter.
The cooling towers were selected for a
wet bulb of 77F (25C).
Interior Conditions

Interior design temperatures range

from 70F (21C) for some of the exhibits to 85F (29C) for mechanical
and electrical rooms. Most of the public
spaces were designed for 75F (24C)
with 80F (27C) selected for the big
tank and most of the aquatic life support
system (LSS) rooms.
Occupancy ranges from 200 ft2 (18.6
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m2)/person in holding areas to 2,000

people in the function rooms. Occupancy
in the various exhibit areas was selected
based on 15 ft2 (1.4 m2)/person. The lighting load ranges from 1.5 W/ft2 (16 W/m2)
in the public area lobby up to 10 W/ft2
(108 W/m2) in certain retail areas. Lighting loads in exhibit areas range between
1.5 W/ft2 and 10 W/ft2 (16 W/m2 and 108
W/m2). Equipment loads in the galleries
range from 2 W/ft2 to 10 W/ft2 (21.5
W/m2 to 108 W/m2) depending on the
exhibits and zones within the exhibits.
The cooling and heating systems for

LSS are designed to maintain the water

temperature in each tank in the galleries.
Each gallery has various tanks with different water temperature settings. Depending
on the gallery, the water temperature may
range between 50F to 60F (10C to
16C) on the low side to 75F to 80F
(24C to 27C) at the upper limit.
Systems and Applications

With a facility such as this with its

mixed use characteristics, the design
must consider and integrate many similar
but different requirements to effectively

Worlds Largest Aquarium

The Georgia Aquarium is the worlds largest
aquarium with more than 100,000 animals in 60
habitats. A 100 ft (30.5 m) tunnel (right) is one of the
largest aquarium windows in the world.
This 500,000 ft2 (46 451 m2) mixed-use facility includes aquarium tanks and galleries; meeting rooms;
ballroom space; food service area; administration space;
a vet services area; and a life-support systems area.
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condition all areas. Two distinguishing

features of the facility are a central utility
plant for heating and cooling and multiple
rooftop units dedicated to the disparate
uses of the facility.
The chiller plant is designed to operate
efficiently at part-load conditions. Redundancy is provided to allow for equipment maintenance. Chillers with multiple
compressors are included because they
provide partial cooling during failures and
enhance part-load operation.
The heating plant is designed to heat the
building during the winter and to provide
domestic hot water, pool heating, and service to kitchens and laundries, as well.
The systems are arranged to circulate
more than 445,000 cfm (210 016 L/s) of
conditioned air, of which 267,000 cfm
(126 100 L/s) is outdoor air. The systems are designed to allow full air-side
economizers as decided by comparative
air enthalpy.
The cooling plant is notable for the four
900 ton (3165 kW) electric centrifugal
refrigeration machines. It provides cooling
for the HVAC systems in the building and
for the LSS through heat exchangers. Controls are arranged to prioritize demands on
the cooling plant to ensure maintaining the
required temperatures in the tanks.
Separate systems are provided for each
of the five galleries; aquarium offices,
including the main entrance and ticketing; retails areas, theater and main plaza;
administration; lab and holding areas;
function rooms and rotunda. Additional
units are dedicated to the back of the
house that contains the aquariums life
support systems.
Air-Handling Systems

Space conditioning is provided primarily by rooftop air-handling units. Although

similar, units delivering air to various
areas have specific characteristics. Depending on the area served, the units have
the following characteristics:
Rooftop units for the galleries are
variable air volume units delivering
constant 54F (12C) air. The insulated
double-wall units each have 30% and
85% filters, chilled water cooling coils,
hot water heating coils, centrifugal return fans, and centrifugal supply fans.

ASHRAE Journal

Rooftop units for the offices, retail,

ballroom, plaza and other public areas
are variable air volume units delivering
constant 52F (11C) air. The insulated
double wall units each have 30% and
85% filters, chilled water cooling coils
(with a minimum of eight rows), hot
water heating coils, centrifugal return
fans, and centrifugal supply fans.
The rooftop unit for the theater is a variable air volume unit delivering constant
52F (11C) air. The insulated double
wall units each have 30% and 90%
filters, chilled water cooling coils (with
a minimum of eight rows), hot water
heating coils, centrifugal return fans,
and centrifugal supply fans.

Chilled Water

The central chilled water plant provides

cooling for the LSS and for the building
HVAC systems. Four 4,160 volt electric
centrifugal chillers meet the peak design
load of 3,600 tons (12 661 kW). One of
the chillers and a corresponding chilled
water pump are powered from the standby
power source. Chilled water circulation
uses variable speed primary chilled water
pumps, circulating 40F (4C) chilled
water with a 16F (9C) temperature rise
to supply chilled water to all LSS and
HVAC systems.
Condenser Water

The constant flow condenser water

system includes four cross-flow cooling
towers selected to match the rejecting capacity of the chillers. One tower cell and a
corresponding condenser water pump are
fed from the standby power source.
The towers were selected for condenser
water cooled from 100F to 85F (38C to
29C) with a wet-bulb temperature of 77F
(25C). The selection allows optimization
of the condenser water temperature to the
chillers to minimize energy consumption
of the combination chiller-tower.
The cooling tower cells are interconnected and valved to allow servicing any
tower cell without shutting down or compromising the condenser water system.
Basin heaters are in each of the stainless
steel tower basins. The quality of condenser water is maintained by side-stream
filtration and chemical water treatment.
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Hydronic Heating

Heat for LSS and HVAC systems is provided by hot water

with some incidental electric reheat on selected VAV terminals.
The boiler plant, consisting of three gas-fired hydronic boilers,
provides hot water for the preheat coils in the rooftop units and
for the LSS heat exchangers. One boiler and an associated hot
water pump are powered from the standby power source.

outdoor air, lighting, walls, roof and glass. Internal latent loads
are generally from people and evaporation with the evaporation
loads significant relative to other load elements. The effectiveness
of controlling the gallery environment depends on an effective
estimation of water evaporation rates.
With more than 8 million gallons (30 283 kL) in circulation,
the rate of evaporation is a critical calculation, as much for indoor
environmental concerns, including temperature and humidity, as

LSS Tank Cooling/Heating System

Precise temperature control of the

various seawater and fresh water tanks is
essential to provide a sustainable marine
life environment. The temperature in each
exhibit is maintained by circulating water
through dedicated titanium steel plate/
frame heat exchangers located in the LSS
equipment rooms. The exchangers and associated cooling systems are unique with
the following characteristics:
Cooling and heating from the primary
building systems is controlled through
automatic devices responding to
temperature transmitters on the
process side of the exchangers to
maintain tank temperatures.
Heat exchangers exist for each tank
with connections to the 40F (4C)
building chilled water system and to
the 185F (85C) building hot water
system. Some of the larger tanks have
multiple exchangers for redundancy and
optimal temperature control. Chilled
water and hot water is available to the
heat exchangers at all times to ensure
proper and precise temperature control
of the water in the tanks.
The system can heat or cool the water
temperature in many of the tanks by
1F (0.55C) in 24 hours. The same
is true for the largest tank, but in a
72-hour period.
Calculations for the cooling and
heating load for the tanks were
done using a proprietary software
program developed for aquariums.
The calculations include consideration
of the LSS pumps, water temperature
change, evaporation, solar gain, heat
transfer to the ambient air, and heat
loss or gain through the piping and
LSS equipment.

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Gallery Conditioning

Loads for the galleries include those

from building heat gains and losses from
June 2007

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for the amount of make-up necessary to

maintain water levels and water chemistry.
The analysis is in part based on an equation that predicts the evaporation rate from
the tanks. This rate, in pounds per hour,
yields the heating and cooling load when
combined with losses and gain through
the tank walls, water temperature, weather
conditions and conditioned air temperature. The base equation is an empirically
derived equation that has been used to
estimate cooling pond area as described
in 2004 ASHRAE HandbookHVAC
Systems and Equipment.
wp = A 95 + 0.425 v [ pw pa]


wp = evaporation rate of water, lb/h
A = area of pool surface, ft2
v = air velocity over water surface,
hfg = latent heat required to change
water to vapor at temperature of
surface water, Btu/lb
pa = saturation vapor pressure at dew
point temperature of
ambient air, in. Hg
pw = saturation vapor pressure at
temperature of surface water,
in. Hg
Of interest, this same equation, in
somewhat different form, is included in
the 2003 ASHRAE HandbookHVAC
Applications to predict a rate of evaporation for loads related to natatoriums. In
the case of open tanks, splashing is not
typical and wetted decks are unusual. The
evaporation rates are typically less.
wp = ( pw pa)(95 + 0.425 v)
wp = evaporation of water, lb/h
A = area of pool surface, ft2
v = air velocity over water surface,
Y = latent heat required to change
water vapor at surface water temperature, Btu/lb
pw = saturation pressure at room air
dew point, in. Hg
pa = saturation vapor pressure taken at
surface water temperature, in. Hg
The units for the constant 95 are
Btu/(hft2in. Hg).
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The units for the constant 0.425 are

Btumin/(hft3in. Hg).
This equation can be modified by multiplying it by an activity factor Fa to alter
the estimate of evaporation rate based
on the level of activity supported. For Y
values of about 1,000 Btu/lb (2326 kJ/kg)
and V values ranging from 10 fpm to 30
fpm (0.1 m/s to 0.15 m/s), the equation
can be reduced to:
wp = 0.1A(pw pa)Fa


An activity factor Fa = 0.5 is appropriate for the open pools typical in an

In either case, the minimum air quantity required to remove this evaporated
water is determined using the following
Q = wp/60 (Wi Wo)


Q = quantity of air, cfm
= standard air density, 0.075 lb/ft3
Wi = humidity ratio of pool air at design
criteria, lb/lb
Wo = humidity ratio of outdoor air at
design criteria, lb/lb

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and the heat required for evaporation is

determined by the equation
Btu/h = wp hfg


where hfg is the specific enthalpy of

evaporation at the pool water
Energy Conservation

Equipment selection and control strategies were selected to enhance energy

conservation as follows:
Chilled water pumps, cooling tower
fans, and fans in rooftop units have
variable frequency drives.
All motors are premium or high efficiency.
Rooftop units include air-side economizers. Many of them are integrated
to provide makeup air as part of the
building smoke control system.
Demand-controlled ventilation with
CO2 monitoring is implemented on all
systems to guarantee that the outdoor
air provided to the various spaces is
adapted to the number of people present
ASHRAE Journal


in each space. This feature avoids the introduction of excess

quantities of moist outdoor air that would require significant
energy to dehumidify.
The building automation system is arranged to operate the
various HVAC systems on a predetermined schedule to
maximize energy savings. These schedules include various
scenarios as appropriate including night setback, shutoff
during unoccupied periods, optimum start controls, minimum
VAV system setpoints, peak load management, and heating
and cooling set point overlap protection.
Smoke Control

Engineered smoke control in the plaza and galleries is designed so occupants have enough time to egress the building
while tenable conditions are maintained. The system provides a
high level of safety for the occupants of the plaza during design
fire scenarios. The systems and control provided in the galleries and plaza comply with the performance and prescriptive
requirements allowed for Smoke Protected Assembly Seating
(Section 8-4.1 of the Life Safety Code) and the 2000 edition
of the Life Safety Code.
All of the air handlers and associated smoke control equipment are energized from a standby power source.
The system has been designed to provide not more than
100% and not less than 80% of the smoke exhaust capacity
for makeup air. The air handler within the gallery of origin for
a fire scenario is programmed to shut down, with the systems
providing 100% outside air to un-involved galleries.
The required outside air is provided through the planned airhandling units. The required exhaust of 120,000 cfm (56 634
L/s) for the plaza smoke control is provided using dedicated
exhaust fans on the roof over the plaza. Design calculations
show compliance with NFPA 92B, which is the required standard, referred to by NFPA Life Safety Code.
The public gallery and plaza spaces that communicate with
each other are designed with smoke control systems and sprinkler systems that comply with Section 6-2.4.6 of the Life Safety
Code, 1997 edition and the 2000 edition of the Life Safety
Code. These code sections, along with Chapter 8 of the 1997
edition of the Life Safety Code, allow persons to exit through
the atrium. Persons exiting through the atrium have been added
to the population of the plaza level.
Automatic sprinkler zones and smoke control zones are coordinated. The gallery sprinkler zones are separated from the
plaza sprinkler zones. Complete automatic smoke detection and
listed beam detection are provided in the galleries and plaza.
Aquatic Life Support

The 6 million gallon (27 712 kL) Ocean Voyager tank is the
largest aquarium tank in the world and has more than 100,000
fish. Of all the aquarium tanks in the world, it is the heaviest
in biomass. This means that it has the highest ratio of fish per
gallon of water of any tank, more than two to three times heavier
than any other aquarium to date. The level of biomass loading
was the result of the aquarium owner wanting diversity and a

ASHRAE Journal

spectacular main tank as the centerpiece of the aquarium.

The design team worked with the leading water research experts in the country to provide chemistry that closely resembles
the natural habitat of the fish, and to solve the problem of how
to maintain a high level of water clarity and quality with the
heavy biomass load. It was a challenge that had not been met
effectively in previous designs.
Research led the design team to incorporate a combination
of two complete filtering systems, foam fractionization and
sand filtration. A design similar to this was provided for a
small exhibit at the Baltimore Aquarium some years before.
The fact that so many different species are in the main tank
requires a rapid turnover of water. The two-filtration system
allows this rapid turnover with a complete turnover of water
every 90 minutes. A third system was implemented to provide
additional water clarity.
Heat exchangers heat or cool exhibit water to provide the
appropriate environment for the animals. Heat exchangers are
installed to take water from the discharge (clean) side of the
sand filter and inject it back in farther down the same line. For
the controls, a wet tap temperature emitter in the exhibit effluent
line is wired to a temperature controller panel. The controller
activates the hot water supply or chilled water supply. Titanium
heat exchangers in seawater habitats are provided to anticipate
highly corrosive water from the exhibits.
To limit the consumption of water, the 8 million gallons (30
283 kL) of tanks in the aquarium use a semi-closed system with
manufactured sea water which allows as much water as possible
to be reused. Water is replaced from local sources only when
required due to evaporation.
Aquatic Life Support:
6.2 million (23 470 kL) gallons to fill open ocean tank;
54 in. (1.4 m) diameter piping;
218 pumps (4,160 hp [3102 kW] to circulate 261,000 gpm
[16 469 L/s]);
4,035 valves;
25 miles of wiring;
31 pump water motion system circulating 29,500 gpm (1861
24 in. thick acrylic viewing wall weighing 238,000 lbs (107
955 kg); and
34 saltwater and 11 fresh water tanks holding 8 million
gallons (30 283 kL) for 100,000 fish.
Care of the animals is even more important than satisfied
visitors. For this reason, a complex interface exists between
the chilled water from the main building system and the LSS
systems that maintain conditions within the 8 million (30 283
kL) gallons of animal habitat. All of this is computer-controlled
with a dedicated DDC system.

Fire protection design, as for lighting and HVAC, required a

unique approach to deal with the irregular nature of the exhibits.
The 120 ft acrylic tunnel below the 6 million (22 712 kL) gallon open ocean tank could not be protected with a traditional

June 2007

sprinkler system design. In fact, sprinklers were not a physically

feasible alternative.
The system used for the atrium and open galleries is similar to
that used for smoke detection in high value electronic equipment
environments. The VESDA (very early smoke detection) technology was used to detect products of combustion far in advance
of a sprinkler or normal area smoke detection system.
In other galleries, elements such as fake rocks, suspended
rivers, shrimp boats, lighthouses, caves and waterfalls required
sprinkler, diffuser, exit sign and fire alarm required that design
decisions be made in model studios rather than on paper to
understand the three-dimensional nature of the space.
Electrical Power for Critical and Emergency Systems

The need to ensure survival of the more than 100,000 fish and
safety for the aquariums visitors in the event of an electrical
power outage in Atlanta was addressed by providing a standby
power system to maintain all aquatic systems as well as lifesafety systems for visitors. The generators used for standby
power are capable of producing more than 6 MW of power,
which is enough to power 250 homes.
Three generators provide power for the critical aquatic systems for the animals. A separate emergency generator provides
power for the life-safety systems for the human visitors.
In the first few minutes following a
power loss most of the aquarium staff
would be busy coordinating the safety of
the visitors. For this reason, the standby
power system was designed to start and
configure itself automatically, placing
the critical and emergency systems into
a safe mode that can operate autonomously until the staff has time to take
over manual operation. The standby power
system makes full use of the installed
generating capacity, but as a precaution,
to protect against possible overload in the
event one of the generators fails, a rudimentary load sequence/load shed control
system was developed that prioritizes the
loads that are connected to the standby
The generators can also be used during an electrical energy emergency, or
brown-out, to reduce the amount of
electricity the aquarium draws from the
citys electrical power grid.

dimming system is used to achieve lighting levels and special

effects for different exhibits. 1,500 linear ft (457 m) of LED
strips for accent lighting are installed over the plaza.
Lighting design included incorporation of effective but unobtrusive life-safety systems. Emergency lighting fixtures on
dedicated circuits that normally stay off are used in all galleries.
They are blended into surroundings to serve their purpose in life
safety when needed. A similar but different approach is taken for
open ceiling spaces where efficient, almost invisible, high bay
fluorescent lights are installed. In the multifunction ballroom
and in the theater, the idea is still the sameemergency lighting
hidden in architectural elements, normally off and ready to act.
Life safety is a priority. Emergency lights are always on in the
mechanical support areas to navigate staff through the space.
Special lighting is provided for treatment areas with sick or
injured animals, and for surgery rooms.

The basic challenge for designing the aquarium was dealing with the extremely technical nature of the designs while
meeting the client requirement for a creative theme. The team
continually balanced creativity with practicality. The result is a
world-class aquarium with a safe and comfortable environment
for animals and humans.

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As you would expect, the vast aquarium

space requires lighting on a level with
sophisticated exhibitsdifferent tasks
and different lighting levels all managed
and controlled. The latest technology in
a highly intelligent lighting control and
June 2007

ASHRAE Journal