UTA engineer uses advanced sensing, crowdsourcing to predict urban water flow, city needs

October 20, 2014

A UT Arlington water resources engineer has been awarded a four-year, $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to improve sustainability of large urban areas from extreme weather, urbanization and climate change.

D.J. Seo, associate professor of water resources engineering in the Civil Engineering Department, will lead a team of researchers who will integrate data from advanced weather radar systems, innovative wireless sensors and crowdsourcing of data via cell phone applications to create high-resolution modeling of urban water systems.

The resulting urban water prediction system will use cloud computing to produce a suite of products for flash flood forecasting, inundation mapping, water quality forecasting, storm water management, urbanization impact assessment, climate change impact assessment and adaptation, and other applications. The project also will eventually aid local governments in determining infrastructure needs to minimize flooding.

Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the College of Engineering, said Seo's work creates a more sustainable environment in urban areas.

"Urban areas are of high importance as they are particularly susceptible to flooding and drought due to population growth and climate fluctuations," Behbehani said. "This project will look at not only water quantity but water quality as well through the use of sensors. It will advance our understanding of urban sustainability and the associated challenges through environmental, social and economic needs of a large city."

The UT Arlington-led team includes: Zheng Fang and Xinbao Yu, assistant professors in civil engineering; Jean Gao, professor in computer science & engineering; Michael Zink, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst; and Branko Kerkez, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Michigan.

Seo's grant was one of the largest grants awarded this fall through the NSF's Cyber-Innovation for Sustainability Science and Engineering, or CyberSEES, program. The awards aim to advance the science of sustainability in tandem with advances in computing and communication technologies.

The two- to four-year grants ranged from $100,000 to $1.2 million and are designed to bring together teams of researchers from computer science and other disciplines to develop new tools, technologies and models that advance sustainability science.

Seo's project builds on his previous work to help establish the Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere, or CASA, radar system in North Texas. UT Arlington installed the first radar station in North Texas atop of Carlyle Hall in 2012 as part of Seo's research.

The CASA system provides weather data every minute compared to every five to six minutes with previous weather radar systems. CASA can adapt to focus on smaller areas, giving the users more detailed information to better monitor and track storms and precipitation.

Since 2012, CASA radar systems also have been installed in Denton, Midlothian, Addison and Cleburne with other installations planned.

Through the new CyberSEES project, Seo's team will depend on North Texas weather spotters for ubiquitous water observation, which will be used to improve the quality of model predictions.

"We want to develop a cell phone app that anyone can use to tell us how deep the water is and how fast the water may be ponding at numerous locations throughout the area," Seo said.
About UT Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution and the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in 2013. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. Visit http://www.uta.edu to learn more. Follow #UTAdna on Twitter.

University of Texas at Arlington

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