BUFFALO, N.Y. -- People who live in flood-prone areas naturally
aren't thrilled about the uncertainty they must cope with each
hurricane season, but research conducted by a University at Buffalo
engineer is based on the idea that a better understanding of this
uncertainty is key to helping mitigate damage from floods.
Christina Tsai, Ph.D., associate professor of civil, structural
and environmental engineering in the UB School of Engineering and
Applied Sciences, is developing new mathematical and computer
models that will better reflect the uncertainty of flow events and
the likelihood of sedimentation, providing emergency planners with
more precise data.
Her work, called uncertainty analysis, is geared toward creating
more precise predictions of how such extreme flow events near lakes
and rivers will impact urban areas, through the development and use
of fundamental engineering principles, mathematical models and
While sophisticated deterministic models for sediment transport
and water quality modeling are available nowadays, Tsai said, the
predictions that they produce are likely to be associated with
errors and uncertainty, as flooding and sediment transport involve
a multitude of highly varying and random factors.
"Our ultimate goal is to provide emergency managers with new
scientific tools that can help them to better determine the level
of risk for local communities posed by extreme flow events, such as
hurricane-induced floods," she continued. "The new tools also will
more precisely reflect how significant is the potential for
specific levels of contamination and sedimentation in rivers and
Changes in sedimentation as a result of floods can alter the
natural morphology of bodies of water, leading to erosion and
increased contamination near shorelines.
"The model I am proposing will treat contamination and
sedimentation processes as random variables influenced by factors
such as flow turbulence and the uncertainty surrounding when and
how floods will occur," she said. "As a result, it is likely to
result in a more comprehensive description of these processes."
Tsai's project is the result of a prestigious $407,921 Faculty
Early Career Development Award she received recently from the
National Science Foundation. According to the NSF, the CAREER
program recognizes and supports the early career-development
activities of teacher-scholars "who are most likely to become the
academic leaders of the 21st century."
Her work is closely aligned with "Extreme Events: Mitigation and
Response," identified as one of UB's academic strengths during the
university's UB 2020 strategic planning process.
The NSF grant also supports Tsai's development of more
quantitative courses in this area as well as increased exposure for
students to cross-disciplinary training in mathematical
Founded in 1946, the UB School of Engineering and Applied
Sciences has 150 faculty members and an enrollment of more than
2,300 students. UB Engineering offers undergraduate and graduate
degree programs in six departments. The school's annual research
expenditures are approximately $50 million; its per-faculty
research expenditure puts it in the top 10 percent of U.S.
engineering schools, according to data from the National Science
Foundation. UB Engineering works with corporate partners in a
variety of ways ranging from joint research ventures, to continuing
education, to co-op work arrangements for students.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.