Collaborations in coastal resilience

New funding for DHS Center of Excellence means continued collaboration with RENCI on coastal issues

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced it will provide $20 million over five years to fund the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (COE) at UNC-Chapel Hill. That’s a good thing for people in coastal areas who each year must cope with hurricanes, erosion, flooding, and storm surge.

Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. RENCI and the DHS Coastal Resilience Center work together to improve hurricane storm surge prediction.

Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. RENCI and the DHS Coastal Resilience Center work together to improve hurricane storm surge prediction.

The new grant acknowledges the effectiveness of a longtime partnership between the Coastal Resilience COE (formerly the Coastal Hazards Center of Excellence) and RENCI. For more than five years, Brian Blanton, RENCI’s director of environmental programs and a coastal oceanographer, has worked closely with Rick Luettich, lead investigator for the Coastal Resilience COE and director of UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences, to enhance the ADCIRC storm surge modeling system and put it to use as a tool to help coastal communities understand, predict, and mitigate the impacts of coastal storms.

The collaboration is a perfect example of university researchers with different, but complementary, backgrounds working together to have a long-lasting impact on a problem that affects human lives, businesses and homes, infrastructure, tourism, and coastal ecosystems.

ADCIRC, a storm surge and wind wave modeling system used to predict flooding caused by tropical and extra-tropical storms, has been a key tool in coastal resilience efforts for many years. Through collaborations involving RENCI, the UNC COE, and other partners, ADCIRC has been coupled with several meteorological forecast models and set up to provide forecasts of coastal storm surge and waves conditions. This tool, called the ADCIRC Surge Guidance System (ASGS), uses the power of RENCI supercomputers, to produce high resolution coastal forecasts at least twice a day and more often when a tropical storm or hurricane threatens the U.S. East or Gulf coast.

ADCIRC/ASGS contributed to the development of new coastal floodplain maps for FEMA, helped the U.S. Coast Guard with evacuation decisions during Hurricane Irene (2011), and accurately predicted storm surge during Hurricane Sandy (2012).

With hurricane season about to start, the ADCIRC/ASGS capability alone makes the Coastal Resilience COE a good investment. However, the COE’s coalition of university and private sector partners, federal agencies, first responders, and other research centers has a much more expansive research portfolio that includes coastal hazards modeling, disaster recovery and hazard mitigation planning, risk communication, and coastal infrastructure resilience.

The center also has a strong education component, including the development and delivery of courses in coastal/computational engineering, disaster science and management, and related disciplines. Many courses are offered at Minority Serving Institutions within the COE’s network of partner institutions.

Congratulations to our friends and colleagues at the Coastal Resilience COE on the new five-year DHS award that will translate research to end users who can then use that knowledge to address real-world problems and protect vulnerable coastlines and coastal populations.

We at RENCI look forward to continuing a long and productive relationship.

To read the DHS Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence news release, click here.
Visit the DHS Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence website.
Visit the Atlantic Coast Storm Surge and Wave Guidance website.
Read about RENCI’s coastal hazards modeling work here.

–Karen Green

Webinar to put the spotlight on metadata

Need your data to remain useful and discoverable over its entire lifespan? Metadata is the key.

metadata-loveMetadata—or data about data—and its importance in life sciences research will be the discussion topic at an upcoming webinar featuring RENCI’s Dan Bedard, Interim Executive Director of the iRODS Consortium, Stephen Worth, director of Global New Business Development Operations at EMC, and Patrick Combes, Principal Life Sciences Solutions Architect in EMC’s Emerging Technologies Division.

The webinar—titled Expanding the Face of Metadata in Next Generation Sequencing—takes place Wednesday, May 13 at 2 p.m. and should offer insights for life sciences researchers, bioinformatics specialists, software developers, and IT and research computing experts. To register, click here.

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Pearl Hacks draws female coders from across the nation

“Every single one of you are makers.”

These words from Dona Sarkar kicked off UNC Chapel Hill’s recent Pearl Hacks event. Sarkar is an engineer manager at Microsoft, author, and fashion designer, and this past weekend she was in Chapel Hill inspiring an audience of over 600 high school and college-age women gathered to create through hacking.

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NC FIRST Robotics program grooms science and tech heroes of the future

There has been a growing buzz in the media about the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education and the struggle to ensure students receive enough of it in public schools. Part of the reason for this intense focus is that the U.S. Department of Labor expects there will be 1.2 million job openings in STEM related fields by 2018, but there won’t be enough qualified graduates to fill those jobs.

According to a Harris Interactive survey, many students who choose a math or science career interacted with a teacher or participated in a program that inspired them and helped launch their STEM career path. NC FIRST Robotics, which was created to help students acquire the knowledge and skills needed to compete in our technologically-driven society, is one such program.  Read more…

Finding common ground in the Social Computing Room

A delegation from Kyrgyzstan views biopsy slides in the RENCI Social Computing Room.

A delegation from Kyrgyzstan views biopsy slides in the RENCI Social Computing Room.

Science, like music, is an international language. No matter their cultural, ethnic, or religious backgrounds, no matter if they conduct fieldwork in the U.S. or run a lab in central Asia, scientists always seem able to find common ground.

It’s a fact all competent science communicators understand, and one I was reminded of when a delegation of science and technology professionals from Kyrgyzstan visited RENCI’s Social Computing Room (SCR) on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus on Feb. 12. The group, comprised primarily of women with backgrounds in mathematics, software engineering, and information science, journeyed half way around the world to participate in the Open World Program, a U.S. exchange program that supports and encourages current and future leaders in post-Soviet block countries.

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TriPython project nights bring community and innovation to RENCI after hours

The Triangle Python Users Group is a local organization that brings together experienced and new enthusiasts of Python, a widely used computer programming language. The group has been active in our area since 2002 but recently had a need for a new meeting space in the Chapel Hill area.

RENCI has opened its doors for a few of the group’s activities. Project nights are now held the second Wednesday of each month at RENCI. The informal project nights bring together new Python users seeking support and assistance with more experienced users. Together, they talk about their projects and potentially create cross collaboration.

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Creekside coders create and engage during “Hour of Code” event

Increasingly, every aspect of society – from education to healthcare – relies on software-driven technology. Even as we rely more often on “smart” devices for all aspects of our daily lives, we may not be producing enough computer scientists and software developers to satisfy our demand for all things tech.

Coding1

Creekside Elementary in Durham hopes students will catch the coding bug at a young age.

According to Code.org, by the year 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs but only 400,000 computer science students ready to enter the field. Additionally, according to the Computing Research Association, the computer science field suffers from an alarming gender and diversity gap that has not improved over the years – in 2010, less than 14 percent of US and Canadian computer science graduates were women, and only 10 percent were minorities.

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Computer modeling facilitates discussion of coastal hazards

RENCI’s Brian Blanton, PhD, recently gave a talk called “Simulating Storm Surge for Coastal Hazard and Risk Assessment” as part of a Disaster Resilience Symposium held at Virginia Tech.

The goal of the symposium was to facilitate interdisciplinary discussion and collaboration on efforts to reduce the ecological and socioeconomic risks of coastal hazards. Living on a coastline comes with a certain set of risks, and coastal resilience researchers study the most effective ways to ensure coastal communities have the ability to bounce back after events such as tropical cyclones and tsunamis, and the resulting flooding and inundation.

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High performance computing: It really does matter

Better models of coastal storm surge are among  the reasons that HPC matters.

Better models of coastal storm surge are among
the reasons that HPC matters.

Every November thousands of researchers and industry representatives in high performance computing and related fields, such as advanced networking, data storage, and analysis, meet for the annual supercomputing conference.

This year SC14 will bring together computer engineers, software developers, computational scientists, industry CTOs, grad students, and assorted geeks from around the world to New Orleans during the week of November 17. RENCI will be there, sharing information about the iRODS data management platform, the iRODS Consortium, ExoGENI and related projects on Networking Infrastructure as a Service (NIaaS), the National Consortium for Data Science, and other RENCI research projects. Read more…

Hacking for better health

Hacking is not just what computer science students do when they’ve had too much strong coffee.

In 2014, hackathons bring together smart people from a variety of backgrounds for intense, technical problem-solving sessions that often last several days. They are a mainstream method for harnessing brainpower to generate new ideas, business models, products, and technical solutions.

Hacking Pediatrics, held October 18 and 19 at the Microsoft New England R&D Center (yes, the acronym is NERD) was one such Hackathon. About 150 professionals gathered in Cambridge, MA, to spend the weekend developing technologies to improve pediatric healthcare. RENCI’s Ketan Mane attended the invite-only event, and needless to say, he had a productive two days. Read more…