Tuesday, October 18, 2016

While Iowa is far from the eastern seaboard where Hurricane Matthew recently raged, people up and down the Atlantic coast have Daniel Reed to thank, in part, for the prediction models of both the hurricane path and storm surge levels.

In 2004, Reed, University of Iowa Vice President for Research and Economic Development, brought together academics from multiple disciplines, government and industry partners, and a highly advanced technological infrastructure to form the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC).

RENCI built on Reed’s experiences and expertise as Director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois. While with RENCI, Reed built world-class high-performance computing capability including the Topsail supercomputer. Completed in 2007, Topsail offered real-time, multi-dataset storm surge model predictions known for its extreme accuracy, and at the time was the 25th fastest machine in the world.

“I’m very proud of my role in the development of the Renaissance Computing Institute and the partnership on storm surge modeling,” said Reed. “RENCI’s model of multidisciplinary collaboration is part of a larger agenda to empower scientific discovery and artistic creativity, while addressing critical societal problems in areas as diverse as weather and storm modeling and post-genomic medicine. It’s a fine example of the long-term national and global impact of academic research, industry, and government partners working in harmony for the good of all.”

The storm surge collaboration was dreamed up in a conversation in Reed’s office following the costliest hurricane season on record to date. The 2004 Atlantic coast hurricane season included six Category 3 storms, three Category 4 storms, and Hurricane Ivan, a rare Category 5 storm that caused catastrophic loss of life and property destruction on the Gulf Coast in Alabama and Florida.

Storm surge forecasting has proven just as important as hurricane path forecasting. While hurricane force winds are incredibly damaging, flooding caused by storm surges have a far worse and prolonged impact on human health and safety and on property.

Storm surge forecasting allows government officials to make matter judgments about evacuation zones. Over time, accurate forecasting decreases the likelihood that the public will dismiss warnings as “the boy who cried wolf,” which in turn can reduce the chances of preventable deaths. In many ways, Reed said, this collaboration is very similar to the work that the Iowa Flood Center at UI does on Iowa flood prediction, which also relies on advanced computing.

The Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development provides resources and support to researchers and scholars at the University of Iowa and to businesses across Iowa with the goal of forging new frontiers of discovery and innovation and promoting a culture of creativity that benefits the campus, the state, and the world. More at http://research.uiowa.edu, and on Twitter: @DaretoDiscover.