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Professor explains his hurricane engineering

Peter Ninneman | Friday, February 24, 2006

The Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning’s “Scholars in the Classroom” lecture series kicked off Thursday with a talk by professor of civil engineering and geological sciences Joannes Westerink on “The Impact of Hurricane Katrina and Predicting Storm Surges in Southern Louisiana.”

Westerink holds a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and plays a leading national role in understanding and modeling hurricanes, as well as in preventing catastrophic damage like that caused by Hurricane Katrina.

Westerink was one of the principle researchers and scholars who helped develop the Advanced Circulation Model (ADCIRC), which is an authoritative computer modeling system currently used by the U.S. Army and Navy, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In the beginning of the lecture, Westerink showed aerial shots he took of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

“What we’re going to do is actually take a little helicopter ride,” Westerink said.

The pictures showed barges pushed up onto land, totally demolished residential areas and the remains of levees.

“Essentially, there’s water everywhere,” Westerink said.

In 2004, Westerink’s ADCIRC system predicted the levees protecting New Orleans could not prevent flooding of the city during a slow-moving, large category three hurricane.

ADCIRC was developed at Notre Dame, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Oklahoma and uses 256 processors to write and solve nearly six hundred billion algebraic equations, he said.

Even so, Westerink said he and his associates are looking to improve it.

“Our goal is to develop accurate, efficient, robust and usable computational models of the coastal ocean that can be applied to real engineering problems,” Westerink said. “We have to keep on adding detail to make more accurate models.”