LSU assistant professors of civil and environmental engineering Navid Jafari, Chao Sun and Hongliang Zhang are collaborating with other University professors to make it easier to determine where big storms go and what impact they will have in terms of wind, rain, storm surge and flooding.
They are working on different projects within the Hurricane Resilience Research Institute (HuRRI).
The process of collecting information for these projects includes driving to the wetlands, finding a boat and boat ramp, going into the windy and choppy water, placing sensors and returning to wetlands and collecting data. With fresh bodies of water, snakes and alligators may be present.
“There is a lot of effort that goes into that,” Jafari said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if robots could do that for us?”
Jafari’s project is in collaboration with Aaron Becker, a robotics engineer at the University of Houston. One of the areas that interested both Becker and Jafari was collecting data before, during and after natural hazards like hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, landslides and other similar events. The project aims to deploy sensors using drones or unmanned aerial vehicles to stay stationary during a hurricane.
The team is developing prototypes to drop sensors, make sure the sensors land stably and collect correct data. They are going to the wetlands in March to test these prototypes, which will help model hurricanes and see how they pass through wetlands.
Meanwhile, Sun is working on a project to help protect power transmission and distribution systems during severe storms. Storm surges cause damage that leads to power outages, which can hurt the economy and hinder recovery after a hurricane.
Sun’s team focuses on the mechanics behavior of the power distribution systems. The team aims to understand the complex behavior of the systems and to propose some protection devices that can mitigate the response system during hurricanes.
“After Hurricane Harvey, we went there and we saw a lot of damages occur to the power systems, and the idea came to my mind [to conduct this research],” Sun said.
Zhang aims to create a new coupled model, the Weather Research and Forecasting Model Hydrological modeling system. The project aims to predict precipitation of hurricanes as well as flood conditions globally. It can also track the size, intensity and location of hurricanes. The team tries to better predict future natural hazards by looking at historical records of precipitation.
Zhang’s team’s new coupled model allows them to see change and patterns of natural hazards. It also shows flooding levels and air pollution because studies show that aerosols can have an effect on hurricanes, Zhang said. The Baton Rouge Floods in 2016 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017 are two cases the team mainly looks at and collect the data to see the patterns.