Every year, flooding causes millions of dollars in property damage and causes the deaths of thousands worldwide. For years, a more accurate prediction of flood events has been needed – that’s where Tennessee Tech Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Alfred Kalyanapu and Master’s student Nowfel Mahmud Bhuyian come in.
Kalyanapu and Bhuyian aim to advance flood modeling by improving the accuracy of digital elevation models or DEMs. DEMs are one of the main inputs in flood models. They represent the natural terrain in these models but are prone to large errors.
Bhuyian has been awarded a fellowship from The Ivanhoe Foundation for his work in improving the accuracy of flood prediction via algorithms.
“The DEM data that’s available right now still has a lot of uncertainty,” said Kalyanapu. “The best way to actually get the contours of the terrain is with boots-on-the-ground surveying, but that costs a lot of money. DEMs are available for every river basin in the world, but at a resolution of one square kilometer, which is rough but okay for a global-scale study. Here in the U.S., (except for Alaska) we can do a resolution of 10 meters by 10 meters, meaning you can pick up details like buildings or tree canopy.”
Bhuyian’s innovations included measuring DEM when rivers were at low flow, helping to account for river depth as well as surrounding terrain. These models for corrected DEMs were then tested along the Cumberland River path, from Old Hickory to Cheatham Dam, including the metro Nashville area. Bhuyian submitted his results at Student Research Day of the Water Professionals Conference in Louisville, with the peer-reviewed presentation bringing in a third-place ranking. His poster and presentation were derived from his graduate-level research; Kalyanapu and Bhuyian are currently looking for journals to publish the DEM correction approach. The two are also looking at ways to apply their findings on a larger scale, such as Bangladesh and India.
The Ivanhoe Fellowship was founded by L.F. “Buz” Ivanhoe, who worked his way through school and spent his career as a mining engineer. Having experienced the hardships of being a foreign “starving student,” Ivanhoe set up the Ivanhoe Foundation to help international students specializing in water resource work. Bhuyian’s Ivanhoe funds will be applied for tuition, fees, memberships and other expenses.