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DesignSafe, ADCIRC Provide Storm Surge Simulators for Natural Hazards Community

Published on May 29, 2019 by Faith Singer-Villalobos

In April 2019, approximately 40 engineers and researchers from around the country attended Texas ADCIRC (ADvanced CIRCulation Model) Week, an event designed to bring together practitioners from the public and private sector working on coastal modelling with a particular emphasis on coastal hazards, including hurricanes. The week-long event also included emergency personnel who use model results for operational decisions.

The central topic of the event was the ADCIRC storm surge model, used extensively since the late 1990s by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Texas State Operations Center, the Army Corps of Engineers, and many other state and federal agencies to forecast storm surges and provide decision support related to everything from community planning to real-time flood rescue operations.

"Texas ADCIRC week is a crash course for beginners as well as people with experience running ADCIRC," said Clint Dawson, professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at The University of Texas at Austin, and founder of the parallel version of ADCIRC, which is widely used today.

Clint Dawson, Co-PI of the DesignSafe project; professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at UT Austin; and founder of the parallel version of ADCIRC

An important part of the event was a focus on how ADCIRC can be accessed using DesignSafe, a National Science Foundation-funded web-based platform that supports research on natural hazards.

The DesignSafe platform and the ADCIRC model require supercomputing speed and power. As a result, Texas officials and those around the country depend on the advanced computing resources from the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to make life-and-property decisions in real time, including during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Florence in 2018.

Katie Breland, a training manager for urban search and rescue organizations for Texas A&M Task Force One, helped plan and document operations during Hurricane Harvey for Aransas, Fort Bend, and Brazoria counties. As an attendee of Texas ADCIRC Week, Breland said she gained insight into how to use DesignSafe and ADCIRC to help her team in the field during water deployments.

"I'm hoping to use the portal and software during search and rescue operations to determine a good course of action for the teams in the field. Knowing the actual water level in a particular place can help with planning which type of rescue resource is best to send." But it's all dependent on accurate data, she said.

"The most expensive and impactful component that researchers have is their data," said Charlie Dey, training coordinator for DesignSafe and director of training at TACC. "We can shut our machines down, we can restart simulations, but the data has to remain — that's what's most vital to research."

Especially during storm season, once simulation runs are completed, it is crucial to share and publish results with the broader emergency management community as soon as possible. During Texas ADCIRC week, DesignSafe Data Curator Maria Esteva discussed with attendees relevant aspects of data sharing and publication.

It was the first lecture on data curation provided to the ADCIRC community, which consists of hundreds of people around the country and internationally.

"I shared what constitutes a complete and well-documented simulation data publication; how to license it for public use; and the importance of using digital object identifiers so the data is permanently available in a stable web location, and the authors get credit for their efforts," Esteva said.

The most expensive and impactful component that researchers have is their data. We can shut our machines down, we can restart simulations, but the data has to remain — that's what's most vital to research.
Charlie Dey, training coordinator for DesignSafe and director of Training at TACC

DesignSafe has the services required to curate, share, and publish simulations within the same platform in which they are run. Through a guided pipeline designed to facilitate management of large numbers of files, data producers can represent their simulations so consumers can access all the data components including inputs, outputs, and model documentation.

During the week, output and post-processing data was also covered using Kalpona, a file conversion tool that GIS programs can read. "Engineers really want this because all of the maps are overlaid on the results and you can see geo-spatial information," said Dawson, who is also a Co-PI of the DesignSafe project.

ADCIRC requires high performance computing (HPC) resources, and typically uses about 1,000 cores for a hurricane simulation. "We've had experienced developers running ADCIRC in DesignSafe who had many specific needs…we spent quite a bit of time getting all of the features in place. Now, it's fully functional," Dawson said. "Many new users come from places that don't have access to HPC. We're prepared for these new users, and that's a big win."

Looking back to August 2005, Hurricane Katrina was an extremely destructive and deadly Category 5 hurricane that made landfall on Florida and Louisiana, causing catastrophic damage, particularly in the city of New Orleans and the surrounding area. The ADCIRC storm surge model was used then as part of the federal Interagency Performance Evaluation Taskforce report, which documented all of the failures during Katrina. After Katrina, ADCIRC was used to design a new levee system for New Orleans, which is in place today.

"Katrina caught everyone's attention," Dawson said. "Going forward, I'd like DesignSafe to be the go-to place for the natural hazards community to run ADCIRC simulations; to visualize and process output; and then to archive and share the data with the community and the public. That's important for us — to be able to share our data with researchers and first responders to help save lives and property."


Faith Singer-Villalobos

Communications Manager | 512-232-5771

Aaron Dubrow

Science And Technology Writer

Jorge Salazar

Technical Writer/Editor | 512-475-9411