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Location. Location. Location. It’s Important in Storm Surge and Inundation Prediction Too

Nina Welding • DATE: August 31, 2017

Categories:  Press Release

It doesn’t take many pictures of the devastation left by hurricanes such as Sandy, Andrew, or Harvey to grasp the importance of being able to predict and plan for the inevitable waves and flooding [inundation events] that occur along shorelines during these storms. According to Andrew Kennedy, associate professor of civil & environmental engineering & earth sciences at the University of Notre Dame, it’s even more vital in developed coastal areas. Streets are flooded. Cars are turned upside down. The very foundations of some homes are collapsed, and lives are lost. It might be tempting to say that the destruction is greater [and receives expanded media coverage] because an area was densely populated. However, it’s a much more complex issue.

Standard models of storm surge and tsunami inundation predict flow only with buildings removed or “bare earth”; that’s the framework of the computational methods used to calculate damage predictions used today. These models indicate where the storm surge will flow and how fast and high water is likely to rise. “The concern we have with these models,” says Kennedy, “is that, unlike models that predict earthquake and wind damage, they do not account for the influence of the built environment and its variety of structures on the hydrodynamic loading that occurs during a storm.”

For example, when dealing with high winds [a different type of flow], the variety of structures and materials and methods of construction used all play a part, individually and corporately, in the damage that occurs. This is what Kennedy and collaborators at Oregon State University and the University of Southern California will be studying as winners of a new $261,570 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). They will be using deterministic and stochastic models to solve “local” transformations so that they can determine the specific inundation paths and potential damage along a particular parcel of coast. Then they will test their new modeling framework against a hindcast of Hurricane Sandy damage to a section of the New Jersey shoreline.

The results, they believe, will enable more accurate prediction of damage from storms that will also be specific to individual regions or sections of a coastline. In addition to helping set directions for future professional wave loading standards, the project will include four doctoral students, four undergraduate students, and eight summer students, as well as the development of a Natural Hazards Augumented Reality Basin to provide hands-on demonstrations for those and future generations of students.  

When combined with additional new grants of $715,550 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and $319,216 and $466,263.00 from the NSF on related coastal inundation topics, engineers conducting coastal hydraulics research at the University of Notre Dame will be very busy over the next few years.

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