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University of Iowa News Release


June 15, 2009

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Record flood of 2008 results in UI flood research projects of 2009

One year after the historic flood of 2008, University of Iowa researchers -- including many from the College of Engineering's IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering research unit -- are conducting a dozen federally funded studies to learn more about flood-related phenomena and alleviate the effects of future floods.

Within days of the floods and even while the IIHR building was being evacuated because of the flooding, engineering professor and IIHR researcher Witold Krajewski [cray-EFF-ski] and professor and IIHR director Larry Weber began discussing potential projects.

Weber recalls thinking that the floods presented an opportunity to gather data on historic flooding, and so he contacted Krajewski about conducting a lidar (laser radar) survey of water levels on the Iowa River. Krajewski, in turn, arranged for the National Science Foundation's (NSF) National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, based at the University of Florida, to receive a grant to map the elevation of floodwaters along the Iowa River between the Coralville Reservoir and Columbus Junction, Iowa, and the research effort was off and running.

At UI President Sally Mason's suggestion, Weber and Krajewski brought the UI research community together with NSF Director Arden L. Bement Jr. for a meeting that resulted in many new flood-related grant applications to the NSF's Small Grants for Exploratory Research (SGER) program.

Today, UI flood-related studies range from an analysis of Cedar Rapids soil samples to learn what industrial and far chemicals may have been carried into the city by floodwaters, to a look at how flooding and its disruption of normal activities may have affected the educational development of Cedar Rapids school children.

"The diversity of projects covered by these grants demonstrates the University of Iowa's commitment to collecting critical data, representing many different disciplines during and immediately after the flood," said Weber. "This data will be very instrumental in guiding future decisions related to flood mitigation and impacts."

Projects funded by the NSF's SEGR program awarded to UI researchers, many of whom are researchers at IIHR and at the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), include:

--Keri Hornbuckle and Thanos Papanicolaou, UI Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) and IIHR, "Transport of Sediments and Pollutants into the Terrestrial Regions of a Small Urban-Industrial City: The June 2008 Flood of Cedar Rapids, Iowa," $99,168. Purpose: To determine the sources of the extensive sediments that were transported and deposited throughout Cedar Rapids by the flood, and to develop predictive sediment transport models, using chemical pollutants as sediment tracers.

--Craig Just, CEE and IIHR, Gene Parkin, CEE, Nathan Young, IIHR, Teresa Newton, U.S. Geological Survey, "The Impact of Extreme Flooding on Mussel and Microbial Nutrient Dynamics at the Water-Sediment Interface," $75,613. Purpose: To determine the effects of historically high floodwaters on the delivery of sediment and nutrients (agricultural fertilizers) to the Mississippi River's Pool 16, and to the nutrient cycling carried out by mussels and microorganisms within this pool.

--Witold Krajewski, CEE and IIHR, and Ricardo Mantilla, IIHR, "Anatomy of the 2008 Iowa Flood: Exploring the Interplay Between Successive Storms and Basin Drainage Topology," $52,514. Purpose: To better understand the causes and effects of the 2008 floods by analyzing the sequence of multiple storm events and their combined results, and by relating these events and results to a broader geophysical theory of floods currently under development.

--Witold Krajewski, CEE and IIHR, and Ricardo Mantilla, IIHR, "Theoretical Design of a Flood Warning System for Eastern Iowa," $69,471. Purpose: To determine how flow aggregation patterns of the Iowa River and its tributaries can be used to determine the best placement of new rain and stream gauges in order to improve real-time prediction of coming flood events.

--Marian Muste, IIHR, "Evaluation of the Rating Curve Hysteresis Due to Unsteady Channel Flows Using Non-Intrusive Measurements Acquired During the Iowa 2008 Flood," $56,869. Purpose: To assess the accuracy of existing rating curve (graphs that relate discharge with measured stage at stream gauging stations) during unsteady flows using an image-based velocity measurement technique.

--Gerard Rushton, UI Department of Geography, Kevin Leicht, UI Department of Sociology, and David Bills, College of Education, "Determining the Effects of Severe Flooding of Residential Areas on the Educational Development of Public School Students who Live in Such Areas," $62,879. Purpose: To systematically assess the longitudinal effects of the disruptions caused by a natural disaster, namely the 2008 floods, on the subsequent educational performance and careers of flood-involved youth.

--Jerald Schnoor and Craig Just, CEE and IIHR, Nancy Rabalais, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, and Eugene Turner, Louisiana State University, "Contribution of the 2008 Midwestern Flood to Gulf Hypoxia," $99,343. Purpose: To monitor the nitrogen and phosphorus fluxes of floodwaters flowing down the Mississippi River and their contribution to hypoxia (the "Dead Zone") in the Gulf of Mexico and compare these nutrient balances to those of the floods of 1993.

--Kathleen Stewart and David Bennett, UI Department of Geography, "Understanding Spatiotemporal Dynamics of Community Response to Natural Disaster," $44,484. Purpose: To understand how decision makers deployed resources among Iowa City communities during the flood, and study how objectives shifted as the flooding continued, in order to better guide decision-making behavior during extreme weather events.

In addition to the NSF grants and flood mitigation and recovery funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, UI grants related to the flood 2008 and funded by other agencies include:

--Nancy Kraft, UI Library Administration, "Salvage of Czech Phonographic Recordings," State Historical Society of Iowa, $15,000, Purpose: Installation of water purification and conservation treatment sink system and treatment of Czech & Slovak Museum & Library photograph recordings damaged during the June 13, 2008, flood.

--Peter Thorne, UI Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, "Exposure and Health Assessment of Families Re-occupying Flooded Homes," National Institutes of Health, $74,401, Purpose: This is a collaborative research project in Cedar Rapids with the Linn County Health Department, EHSRC staff and College of Public Health Masters Students assisted by AmeriCorps volunteers. The goal of this project is to perform in-home exposure monitoring for molds, allergens, endotoxins, lead and asbestos. In addition, health assessments and health surveillance are planned which will provide data to develop guidelines for safe re-occupation of a flood-damaged home.

--Michael O'Hara, UI Department of Psychology, "The Iowa Flood Study: Perinatal Effects of a Natural Disaster," National Institutes of Health, $149,378, Purpose: This study examines the relationship between major stress during pregnancy (in this case the 2008 Midwest floods) and its impact on maternal and child wellbeing.

--Jay Semel, National Endowment for the Humanities, $30,000, for flood assistance to the UI Museum of Art.

--Derek Willard, U.S. Department of Education, $2 million, to defray relocation expenses; recover, rebuild and protect the campus landscape; and provide grants to students in academic departments disproportionately impacted by the 2008 flood.

Also, the University of Iowa continues to expand its flood-related research with the recent award of an NSF grant to study the 2009 Red River Flood:

--Allen Bradley, CEE and IIHR, and Stuart Schwartz, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, "Forecast Generation and Dissemination for the Record Setting 2009 Red River Flood," $56,493, Purpose: To document the role of human forecasters and their interactions -- both within the forecast community and between forecasters and users of sequential forecasts -- as a central element of the forecast generation and dissemination process.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

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