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IU research staff help create first-of-its-kind global flood modeling early warning system

As significant weather events become more widespread, the Cyberinfrastructure Integration Research Center works to provide flood information to less well-resourced areas.

News and events Jan 27, 2023

Flooding is one of the most common—and most costly—disasters around the globe. For example, between December 26, 2022, and January 12, 2023, California experienced six severe storms known as atmospheric rivers. In a two-week period, parts of the state were deluged by the amount of rain they generally get over a six-month or longer period. The resulting flooding caused millions of dollars in damage and took at least 18 lives. And more rain was in the forecast. 

The Cyberinfrastructure Integration Research Center (CIRC) in the Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI) at Indiana University is partnering with NASA and other leading U.S. institutions to create and maintain a global flood warning system similar to the U.S. Geological Service’s earthquake alert system.  

This project, led by the University of Alabama in Huntsville, has developed a breakthrough method to predict extreme flooding events in near real time. The Model of Models (MoM) integrates multiple reliable data sources to quickly determine whether a forecasted weather event will be potentially hazardous. The MoM helps communities anticipate and prepare for flooding rather than just reacting. 

“Our work focuses on developing the cyberinfrastructure that delivers the MoM algorithms,” said CIRC’s Jun Wang, who leads the cyberinfrastructure effort. “We use Jetstream2 to develop and test new features, and we also provide emergency technical support to the Pacific Disaster Center’s server in the Amazon cloud.” 

The MoM uses open-source hydrological model outputs, rainfall forecasts, and flood risk scores to determine a flood severity score at the watershed level for countries around the globe. The severity score is updated multiple times each day and used to alert emergency management and humanitarian aid organizations in affected areas through the DisasterAWARE platform. Maintained by the Pacific Disaster Center at University of Hawai`i, DisasterAWARE provides alerts and awareness information through the web and mobile applications. This vital information aids in decision-making for national and international emergency management organizations.  

“MoM integrates flood inundation information from multiple sources which requires reliable cyberinfrastructure. And that’s where CIRC comes in.” said PTI Executive Director Beth Plale. “Previously, only about half of the world’s countries had sufficient early warning systems. The work that Jun and the team do is an integral part of an innovative advancement in flood management that will save not only lives, but also time and money.”

About the Pervasive Technology Institute at Indiana University

The Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI) is both engine and hub for use-inspired basic research and education in compute- and data-driven challenge areas. Drawing together teams of academic researchers, educators, and technical professionals, the projects shaped within its centers and labs go on to find immediate utility in science and engineering research and education in the state of Indiana and the nation. PTI was established in 1999 by a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment. PTI is part of the Office of the Vice President for IT and Chief Information Officer for Indiana University.

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