The University of Alabama will train the workforce needed for water operations and forecasting


The University of Alabama received $3 million from national science foundation establish a unique hydrological science research and training program for graduate students.

The NSF Research Internship (NRT) will bring together masters and doctoral students from various water disciplines. UA’s new project, called Water-R2O, will launch them on a career path that will meet the research-to-operations needs of hydrology researchers, forecasters and policy makers in government, industry and academia.

“We are facing major water challenges, and this provides an opportunity, a model, for how we can prepare students to enter the job market, to meet these challenges and to help the search for tip on water to be accelerated for use in water-related operations and forecasting,” said Steven Burianscientific director of the Alabama Water Institute (AWI) and Professor of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering.

Water-R2O will be supervised by a group of 11 faculty members and will welcome its first class of students in the fall of 2023. While taking courses in their respective disciplines, students will earn credits towards a certificate from the operational hydrology program.

Steven Burian is Scientific Director of the Alabama Water Institute and Professor of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering at the University of Alabama. (contributed)

The program aims to train 117 students in the first five years of the program, including 28 funded trainees in civil engineering, computer science, geography and other disciplines in the future.

“Our expertise is in hydrological prediction and forecasting. Going further, we are working on integrating physics-based models with machine learning-based methods,” said Mukesh Kumar, Associate Professor of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering. “Collaboration with IT specialists is necessary in this respect. This project brings us together.

Jiaq Gong, an associate professor of computer science, said they have two goals when it comes to artificial intelligence and machine learning for Water-R2O. On the research side, they will examine how the models are developed and what the limitations are from a mathematical point of view. From a pedagogical perspective, they want to ensure that students fully understand how these elements fit into the bigger picture.

“AI and machine learning are getting a lot of attention from different research fields and how they are applied to the decision-making process of water harvesting systems,” Gong said. . “It’s a great opportunity to work with the other majors and help clarify any questions about them.”

Lisa Davis, an associate professor of geography, said his research on natural environmental records brings a different perspective to improving water forecasting and modeling. Natural records, such as tree rings and flood sediments, contain long archives filled with centuries to millennia of data on a variety of extreme events that are underrepresented in instrument records.

“Combining long datasets from natural archives with instrument data greatly reduces the uncertainty associated with predictions of extreme floods and droughts because natural data contains many more observations of extreme events” , Davis said. “This approach has been underutilized in water operations and forecasting to date because natural scientists, engineers and water operations communities are disconnected, and we aim to change that. “One of NRT’s primary goals is to establish and develop connections with the water community through educational efforts.”

Wanyun Shaosocial scientist and assistant professor of geography, said she will bring her expertise in research on risk decision-making in a geographic context to the program.

“Students will learn the theories and methods of perceiving and judging risk under uncertainty, risk mitigation behaviors and risk communication in order to identify ways and tools to bridge knowledge gaps between scientists and end users,” Shao said. “This training can better prepare them to translate cutting-edge hydrological research into actionable information for end users.” ;

University of Alabama graduate students collect water from Big Prairie Creek in an earlier project. The AU has long played an important role at the national level in water research. (University of Alabama)

Seven external partners will collaborate with AU faculty members for the NRT: NOAA National Water Center; United States Geological Survey; Tennessee Valley Authority; RTI International; Meteo Baron inc.; Jupiterian Intelligence; and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

They are interested in a hands-on approach and will be involved as advisors and mentors, as well as helping to design the research projects and hosting students as interns. The UA team sees this as a key part of the research-operations aspect of the program.

“There will be instances where students will take classes with them and work on real problems and datasets,” Davis said. “It obviously serves the purpose of mentoring students in operations and forecasting, but it also helps introduce them to different business and work cultures so they can see what’s out there and what works for them. the best.”

The AWI also has a role in terms of project coordination, administrative tasks and assistance with partnerships and external relations. Faculty members and the AWI will foster national and regional education, research, and collaboration.

“A big motivation for the development of our team is to help solve and work towards solutions all over the water,” Davis said. “That need also exists at the community level, and we are interested in increasing partnerships here in the state and at the municipal level.”

Students interested in the Water-R2O program will need to apply. The team will present the program and recruit students during the next academic year.

“It will be an aggressive recruitment process to attract the best students,” Burian said. “We will be looking for a cohort with a strong interest in applying research to create solutions to current and future water challenges facing society.”

This story appeared on the University of Alabama website after a version was published by the Alabama Water Institute.


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