Rowan University’s Center for Research & Education in Advanced Transportation Engineering Systems (CREATES) has been awarded a $30 million, five-year contract—with the first two years funded at $11.5 million— from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), to expand Arctic region research.

Led by Yusuf Mehta, Ph.D., and Ayman Ali, Ph.D., CREATES researchers are developing innovative construction technologies and materials to withstand fluctuating temperatures and surface conditions in cold regions impacted by climate change. The work spans a wide range of projects, including the design and evaluation of new pavement materials, as well as their production and maintenance. 

Among other projects, the additional Army Ground Advanced Technology funding will support:

Rising temperatures, thawing permafrost and eroding coastlines are challenging the military’s transportation infrastructure in the Arctic, affecting roads, runways and bridges. Research engineers from ERDC’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) work closely with universities around the country, guiding studies, providing expertise and helping to develop the next generation of engineers.

“Our collaboration with Army Corps research engineers allows us to explore creative solutions for cold regions, from pavements that can melt ice and detect frost to more resilient asphalt and concrete materials that can withstand cold conditions,” Mehta said. “Even better, we’re developing the next generation of engineers who will continue to advance the field of transportation engineering.”

(Courtesy image)

Accompanied by a team of scientists, Dr. Ivan Beckman, CRREL deputy director, spent several days recently at Rowan University visiting labs and hearing the latest updates on the center’s progress. He said he was impressed by the center’s facilities, laboratories and procedures, as well as the professionalism of Rowan faculty and students.

“The lifeblood of CRREL is academia,” Beckman said. “Students, scientific research and very basic scientific understanding is very important to our mission and cold regions research. We always seek out great ideas and great partnerships with universities.”

In addition to site visits, Danielle Kennedy, CRREL program director and a research civil engineer, meets weekly with various teams from CREATES.

“We have been working with Rowan since 2016 and the CREATES program has grown a lot since then,” Kennedy noted. “It’s helped us grow our technology areas at the ERDC a lot, as well. We’re going to conferences with the students and presenting work together. We’re publishing papers together. It’s really been a beneficial relationship for both ERDC and Rowan. I think there’s a lot of potential for future capabilities with all these projects that we’re developing now.”

(Courtesy image)

The collaboration includes workforce development. Earlier this year, CRREL hired Seth Wagner, a Rowan University doctoral student at CREATES. Wagner visited campus recently in his professional capacity.

“I went through graduate school specifically so I could continue doing research,” said Wagner, a civil engineer who received his bachelor’s degree in 2016 and his master’s degree in 2019, both from Rowan. “And now I’m being paid full time to do research. It’s pretty much exactly what I was looking for.”

Besides driving innovation and developing new technologies, the center is fully invested in workforce development, noted Rowan University Provost Tony Lowman.

“Ever since CREATES launched in 2016, Dr. Mehta and his team have worked with industry and government partners to meet their needs for workforce training and research goals,” Lowman said. “What has been particularly successful is how well they prepare students to continue that work after graduation. This close working relationship with our partners is exactly what we hoped to accomplish and we’re excited to see where our graduates go next.”

(Courtesy image)

In addition to projects and internships for undergraduates, more than 40 master’s and doctoral students in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering are pursuing CREATES-related research, contributing to the rapid growth of the college’s graduate programs, said Dean Giuseppe Palmese.

“Dr. Mehta and his colleagues are demonstrating the power of our hands-on, minds-on engineering education,” Palmese said. “This award will significantly expand research opportunities for many more students. Their work will make an impact.”

More than 70 million people depend partly or entirely on the Mekong River as a source of income and as a source of life. (Mekong River Commission photo)
More than 70 million people depend partly or entirely on the Mekong River as a source of income and as a source of life. (Mekong River Commission photo)

Leaders, scientists and engineers from the Mekong region and the United States are joining together to address increasing challenges over water security and river management.

Preparations are underway in Hawaii and California for next week’s arrival of a high-level Mekong River Commission (MRC-Mekong) delegation, which heads to the United States as part of the annual Sister Rivers Partnership Exchange program. Sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the MRC-Mekong delegates are scheduled to meet with the Mississippi River Commission (MRC-USA) to exchange best practices on water and river management. The two commissions will be joined by a third water commission, the International Water and Boundary Commission (IBWC) to learn about how the U.S. and Mexico cooperate on transboundary issues on their shared rivers.

From the MRC-Mekong side, the August 14–18 exchange will include discussions on the five most “troubling” trends currently facing the Mekong River Basin: changing flow regime, sediment flow, salinity intrusion, plastic pollution, and flood and drought exacerbated by climate change. The USACE Pacific Ocean Division (POD) Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Kirk E. Gibbs, will welcome the MRC-Mekong delegation to California, where they will visit the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, Castaic Pump Storage Power Plant, University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Prado Dam, and an international wastewater treatment plant.

“We’re eager to share the innovative ways that we use infrastructure and cutting edge technology in the U.S. to help monitor water, assess climate impacts, and forecast flooding,” says Gibbs. “While the specific nature of our challenges may differ, we share a common goal: the sustainable management and development of water resources. This enhances stability in the region and supports an economically prosperous, socially just, environmentally sound and climate resilient Mekong River Basin.”

Embracing this multilateral exchange is the CEO of Mekong River Commission Secretariat, Dr. Anoulak Kittikhoun, together with the “Heads of Delegation” and Joint Committee members from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

“Experience is the best teacher, and we learn more how to tackle our own challenges as we go along – what works and what doesn’t,” says Kittikhoun. “But through partnerships like this with the Mississippi River Commission and USACE, we also benefit by learning from their experiences and expertise.”

Brig. Gen. Kimberly Peeples, the MRC-USA president and USACE Mississippi Valley Division commanding general, emphasized the importance of international collaboration to address shared challenges.

“Water is a universal necessity. With climate change, how we manage this essential resource must adapt to existing and new water related challenges,” says Peeples. “This partnership is a forum to do just that: collaborate and share our knowledge, our best practices and mistakes, so we can work together to meet these challenges head on. At the same time, enhance capabilities of impacted communities in both the Mississippi and Mekong delta regions.”

The imminent Sister Rivers Partnership Exchange will also include Dr. Maria-Elena Giner, the U.S. commissioner for the IBWC, and Commissioner Adriana Reséndez of Mexico’s Comision Internacional de Limites y Agua (CILA). They will share how the U.S. and Mexico cooperate on water, energy, climate change, and mutual challenges along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Sister Rivers Partnership was launched in 2010 to formalize collaboration in water resource management; the exchange program accomplishes this through its promotion of international collaboration, technical exchanges, and sharing of best practices, which enhances transboundary river governance, disaster risk mitigation, and sustainable development – all aimed to promote stability and prosperity.

After a two-year hiatus due to COVID restrictions on travel, the exchange program resumed last July, when an MRC-USA delegation visited with their Mekong counterparts in Lao PDR and Cambodia. During that exchange, the two commissions also renewed their five-year Memorandum of Understanding, which covers 11 areas of cooperation related to water resources management.

About the Mekong River Commission: The MRC-Mekong is an intergovernmental organization established in 1995 to boost regional dialogue and cooperation in the Lower Mekong River Basin. Based on the Mekong Agreement among Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam, the MRC-Mekong serves as both a regional platform for water diplomacy and a knowledge hub – to manage water resources and support sustainable development of the region.

About the Mississippi River Commission: The MRC-USA was established by an Act of Congress on June 28, 1879. The MRC-USA provides water resources engineering direction and policy advice to the Administration, Congress and the Army in a drainage basin that covers 41 percent of the U.S. and parts of two Canadian provinces by overseeing the planning and reporting on the improvements on the Mississippi River. The intent behind the mission of the MRC-USA today is the same as the mission placed on the commission upon its creation—to lead sustainable management and development of water related resources for the nation’s benefit and the people’s well-being.

About the Pacific Ocean Division: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pacific Ocean Division has a highly diverse workforce of over 1,600 military, civilian and local national team members. The POD mission includes engineering design, construction and real estate management for the Army in Hawaii, Army and Air Force in Alaska, and for all Department of Defense Services and Agencies in Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands. The Division also administers the Corps’ federal water resource development program and waters and wetlands regulatory programs in Alaska, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The POD program includes the multi-year $10.7 billion Korea Transformation Program and the $15.8 billion U.S. Japan Defense Policy Review Initiative. POD also supports U.S Indo-Pacific Command’s and U.S. Army Pacific’s Theater Security Cooperation strategies, Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response (HA/DR) Program, and Civil-Military Emergency Preparedness with projects throughout the Indo-Asia Pacific region.

A storm with a rainbow on the Gulf of Mexico with a boat going by and the surf in the foreground.

Natural and nature-based features (NNBFs) are becoming more prevalent in coastal resiliency and protection design as climate change threatens social, economic and environmental systems along the U.S. coast. However, planners need enhanced processes to predict and quantify their benefits prior to implementation.

To better incorporate these designs into numerical models, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has developed an Engineering With Nature® toolkit for the Coastal Storm (CSTORM) Modeling System, enabling planners to test the hydrodynamic, ecologic and adaptive effects of NNBFs on coastal or estuarine environments.

“The EWN toolkit for CSTORM modeling is a graphic user interface, or GUI, that allows a numerical modeler to represent NNBFs digitally in existing numerical models and standardizes and streamlines the augmentation of those features into the modeling framework,” said Dr. Amanda Tritinger, a research hydraulics engineer with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center and assistant program manager for the USACE EWN initiative.

The initiative uses the intentional alignment of natural and engineering processes to efficiently and sustainably deliver economic, environmental and social benefits through collaboration. As projects are planned, USACE districts require a method for predicting the impact that EWN features — such as NNBFs — may have on the coastal resiliency of communities, quantifying changes to predicted values of storm surge, inundation and wave attenuation for various storm events if these features were implemented.

Traditionally, the process for bringing these features into numerical models has been cumbersome and expensive. The modeling requires manual integration into the bathymetry/mesh, entailing a high level of skill and a significant time commitment. Each time the feature is altered, the mesh must be rebuilt, causing significant time delays.

“This new tool lets you get a preview of what your meshed-in feature will look like,” said Tritinger. “It also lets you drag and drop multiple designs in one at a time and choose alternative ideas to see what could work and what doesn’t. I think it gives engineers the thumbs up to try something different. It’s more than just a tool -- it’s the chance to push the line of innovation on engineering design.”

The tool doesn’t only open the door to innovation, but also to efficiency.

“In recent studies with both the USACE Mobile District and Philadelphia District, what usually would have taken us two weeks to develop took two hours,” Tritinger said.

Standardization is an important key to the framework’s success. The CSTORM design team put a lot of effort into the literature review, working to consistently set the parameters of the numerical model.

“Before, you had to do this extensive literature review to figure out how to represent your features and the parameterization settings of your numerical modeling,” said Tritinger. “We’ve brought all the literature together and put it in one place in this GUI. It allows the user to see the metadata, where the numbers come from, and use their own expertise to adjust as needed.”

Interested districts can download the GUI by visiting the Aquaveo website or learn more information about the toolkit at the EWN website.

“There is also material on the EWN website supporting the toolkit,” Tritinger said. “I think that’s really important for actual application. It’s one thing to have the tool, it’s another to know how to use it. Hopefully this tool, and the documentation behind it, can empower the districts to quantify and understand effects of more resilient designs.”

As part of the EWN initiative, researchers hope to see more widespread usage of the EWN toolkit across the enterprise as the tool can be used to streamline mesh development in general for numerical modeling.

“I would highly recommend – even if you don’t have interest in NNBFs – to take a look, download it, and apply it to mesh development even outside the Advanced Circulation Model,” said Tritinger. “Because of the new workflow, you can develop a mesh and apply it to your own models. It does more than augment an NNBF into a numerical modeling framework. It can expand innovation on every project.”

Schematic showing modeling sequences that can be used to support decision making under the effects of climate change. Coarse Global Climate Model (GCM) projections are downscaled and then run through hydrology and impact modeling to produce an ensemble of high-resolution hydro-regulated streamflow conditions. The ensemble composite is used to identify the frequency of negative impacts under current operations and informs adaptive management planning. This can be repeated and compared for multiple operational scenarios to assess how operations could be altered to maintain or decrease the frequency of negative impacts. (Courtesy Jane Harrell/USACE)
Schematic showing modeling sequences that can be used to support decision making under the effects of climate change. Coarse Global Climate Model (GCM) projections are downscaled and then run through hydrology and impact modeling to produce an ensemble of high-resolution hydro-regulated streamflow conditions. The ensemble composite is used to identify the frequency of negative impacts under current operations and informs adaptive management planning. This can be repeated and compared for multiple operational scenarios to assess how operations could be altered to maintain or decrease the frequency of negative impacts. (Courtesy Jane Harrell/USACE)

Nothing screams Team of Teams or Innovation louder than earning one of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering and Construction Community of Practice’s (ECCoP) highest accolades.

The Northwestern Division Columbia River Climate Change Team received the ECCoP Climate Champion (Team) Award for their work on the Columbia River Treaty Vulnerability Assessment and contributions to district, regional, and national climate product development.

Integrating climate change into long-term planning studies has been a Northwestern Division, Seattle, Portland, and Walla Walla Districts, and their partners’ priority for over 15 years.  

The team’s awarding-winning work includes supporting the Columbia River Treaty (CRT), currently in active negotiations with Canada on future basin water management.

The team incorporated modeling results, from the latest River Management Joint Operating Committee (RMJOC) planning studies, into their future climate vulnerability assessment of the Columbia River Reservoir System operations. The team also supported adaptive management planning to build resilience against hydroclimatic and future hydrologic Columbia River Basin change.

“The national recognition is an honor,” said Seattle District civil engineer and team lead Jane Harrell. “I hope exposure of this team’s work promotes and fosters innovation in how we plan and prepare for the effects of climate change.”

Harrell specializes in dataset and data analysis tool development to support climate change-impacted hydrology and resource assessments for the Pacific Northwest.

Fellow team awardees include Hydraulic Engineers Jason Chang and Reyn Aoki (both with Seattle District), Jeff Arnold (MITRE Corporation), and Chris Frans with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR).  

Seattle District’s Meteorologist Michael Warner provides atmospheric science and climate science support to studies involving the Columbia River Basin and the treaty. Warner, who holds a doctorate in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Washington, Seattle, gives real-time weather forecasting for the district’s water management and emergency management hydrologists.

A sustaining team element is its members’ diverse backgrounds – in engineering, atmospheric sciences, climate science, hydrology, and reservoir operations – that have led to unique opportunities to collaborate with federal agencies and various academic and research institutions to evaluate the effects of climate change in the Columbia River Basin.

“It's a privilege to work with this team and I feel honored to be part of it, said Jeremy Giovando, a research civil engineer with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center-Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (ERDC-CRREL).

Giovando, who has been a CRT/RMJOC climate change team member since 2009, applies his background in environmental and civil engineering into researching various civil works issues including climate change impacts on hydrology, post-wildfire hydrology, snowpack, and river ice mechanics.

“I think the award represents the power of a high-functioning team and has provided a template for how to directly include climate change impacts for USACE project,” said Giovando.

Another instance is collaborating with Bonneville Power Administration and the USBR, leading studies to develop an ensemble of historical and hydrological projections and to examine Columbia River Reservoir System’s climate change resiliency.

Kristian Mickelson, Seattle District’s Columbia River Treaty Hydrology & Hydraulics technical lead, has also been involved since 2009. “I felt really lucky back then being able to use data I helped develop at the University of Washington, and then apply it here at the Corps of Engineers,” said Mickelson.

“Through the years, this team continues to push the science forward to best prepare the region for understanding the impacts that will be caused from climate change.”

Additionally, partnering with the National Center for Atmospheric Research led to the team develop datasets using the latest modeling advancements, and climate knowledge to produce credible meteorological and hydrological conditions and responses of water resource systems.

The datasets enable the team to create a strong uncertainty depiction and risk to managing and planning water PNW region water resources.

“It feels good to be a part of meaningful and interesting work such as this.” said Portland District Water Resources Civil Engineer Keith Duffy, who works on river hydraulic modeling, rainfall runoff computing, reservoir and climate change assessment and data analyses projects. His climate change assessment planning studies date back to 2010.

The combination of diverse expertise, strong connections to the research community and long collaborative effort history makes conditions ideal for essential advancements in how USACE develops datasets and modeling tools toward relevant and reliable applications for decision-making frameworks and uses climate change information to support long-term planning for regional water management.

USACE’s Institute for Water Resources Hydrologic Engineering Center (IWR-HEC) Civil Engineer Evan Heisman, applauded his fellow awardees for continuing to push the boundaries of what can be done with projecting reservoir operations under climate change, and for their proactive approach in understanding how climate change impacts USACE’s mission managing flood risk, hydropower, ecosystems, navigation, and other reservoir system impacts across the Nation. 

From developing decision-support tools to anticipate potential hydroclimatic change to planning for increased resilience for water resource infrastructure, the Climate Champion Team's efforts help advance understanding of and preparation for future climate change in the Pacific Northwest. 

Every year in June, USACE’s Engineering and Construction Awards Program recognizes employees’ and teams' contributions of excellence in performance, leadership, professional development and community support in its engineering and construction career fields.

The ‘Team of Teams’ mindset is embedded into Seattle District’s strategic vision to deliver strong to the Pacific Northwest. Normalizing what currently seems revolutionary and shaping the USACE  future through a culture of continual process improvement, modernization and innovation, are key elements in the district’s operational plan.

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