CURRENT RESEARCH PROJECT:

CLIMBS

Climate Resilience through Multidisciplinary Big Data Learning, Prediction and Building Response Systems

climbs seeks to develop excellence in climate science,
natural hazard data, geoinformatics, and sustainable solutions
engineering for community-scale climate resilience in kentucky.

Kentucky has certainly learned over the past four years that our weather is challenging to predict and can have devastating consequences for our citizens. From the violent tornadoes that ravaged Western Kentucky in 2021 to the historic floods that devastated Eastern Kentucky in 2022, weather-related catastrophes have all too often severely impacted communities and hampered economic growth in the Commonwealth. These events, together with population growth dynamics, human health trends, and the unique socio-cultural heritage of Appalachia, underscore the profound need for action to reduce the vulnerabilities that have been laid bare by recent extreme weather events, floods, droughts, and landslides.

A new five-year Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII Track-1) award from the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR), “Climate Resilience through Multidisciplinary Big Data Learning, Prediction & Building Response Systems (CLIMBS),” is investing $20 million into advancing Kentucky’s climate resiliency, using a collaborative, statewide approach to bring the best and brightest minds together to tackle this important Kentucky problem.

“We are proud to invest in Kentucky’s future through the CLIMBS project, which aims to enhance climate resilience and sustainability across industries,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “By focusing on science-driven solutions, Kentucky can address climate challenges, protect communities and bolster economic growth for communities across the commonwealth and throughout the region.”

 

Floods and tornadoes have devastated Kentucky the last several years. CLIMBS hopes to leverage partnerships to help communities across the Commonwealth.

CLIMBS is an eight-institution collaboration including the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University, Northern Kentucky University, Morehead State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Murray State University and Thomas More University, that will address three fundamental knowledge gaps in climate-related understanding:

DEVELOP BIG DATA

Utilize “big data” approaches and monitoring networks to increase knowledge of Kentucky’s atmosphere and hydrosphere, including paleoclimate data from Kentucky’s past, to determine Kentucky-specific climate activity.

PREDICT
DISASTERS

Enhance predictions of future climate, water resources and biodiversity through application of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques on extensive environmental datasets to forecast climate events, floods and landslides, enhancing response and preparedness efforts.

BUILD
RESPONSE
SYSTEMS

Establish an enhanced framework for climate mitigation and community-level disaster response. It aims to explore the interconnectedness between infrastructure (such as water, power, traffic and communications), human populations and climate hazards. Additionally, it will develop risk assessment tools and restoration models that prioritize human health, socio-economic vibrancy and the long-term sustainability of communities.

“This new EPSCoR project speaks to everything we believe in at the University of Kentucky,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “Building a collaborative team from across higher education institutions in Kentucky to conduct transformative, meaningful work that will have a real benefit in Kentucky communities. While doing so, CLIMBS seeks to educate and train the workforce of tomorrow who will help us build more climate resilient and healthy Kentucky communities.”

CLIMBS will become self-sustainable after the conclusion of the five-year grant, which is critical to helping the state realize its vision of becoming a leader in climate resiliency and hazard engineering based on predictions specific to the area. Rodney Andrews, program director of Kentucky NSF EPSCoR, understands this quite well, serving as the primary investigator on this Track-1 project, his fourth since becoming Kentucky NSF EPSCoR Program Director in 2011.

NSF EPSCoR will provide $20 million over the five-year project period. Through the Research Infrastructure Improvement program, NSF EPSCoR has fueled innovation across the nation by funding large-scale projects of local and national importance to the states and jurisdictions eligible to apply. Since 1986, Kentucky NSF EPSCoR has stewarded these federal funds with great care and become a catalyst for stimulating the development of a strong and sustainable Commonwealth research community.

The CLIMBS leadership team consists of Andrews, research co-principal investigators (co-PIs) Michael McGlue, Sebastian Bryson and Edward Woolery, alongside workforce development co-PI Czarena Crofcheck. They are also supported by program administrator Jeffrey Mossey, program manager Courtney McCarthy, extension specialist Rosemary Fama and communications specialist Kevin Puckett.

“We have incredible research strengths here at the University of Kentucky as the flagship land-grant institution. Funding from the National Science Foundation through EPSCoR enables us to build an ecosystem and infrastructure for STEM not just at UK, but across our region, impacting every corner of our state. EPSCoR allows us to engage in recruiting, training and retaining talent in the science that’s taking place here in Kentucky,” said Lisa Cassis, UK vice president for research.

RESEARCH PROJECTS

To see an expanded view of CLIMBS participants, visit our team page.

CLIMBS Research Synthesis
Project 1: Enhance Weather Understanding

Project 1 will enhance our weather understanding–expanding infrastructure and detecting high-impact events while also facilitating novel research advancing our understanding of their variability, trends and the larger-scale atmospheric and climatic conditions that influence them.

It will also systematize the state’s climatic records, predict climate sensitivity and future trends, contribute to 21st-century warning networks for at-risk communities, and educate the next generation of atmospheric science students.

Project 2: PALEO-PERSPECTIVES

Project 2 will look at climate resilience using paleo-perspectives. It addresses the knowledge gap associated with spatial and temporal changes in Kentucky’s climate using paleo records, hydroclimate proxies, and numerical modeling.

The project will further investigate the natural archives of environmental change, as well as enhance flood prediction models using geological and biological proxy data of major floods throughout Kentucky history.

This group seeks to develop new forward simulations for predicting the timing and spatial impact of previously unpredictable floods in Kentucky.

Project 3: Safeguard Kentucky’s Water Supply

Project 3 will study how a changing climate is and will affect water availability across Kentucky. Researchers will also investigate novel tracers to improve water quality assessments, including identifying tipping points for biodiversity.

Through creating stronger hydrological models of Kentucky’s 12 major watersheds, adding 50 broadband nodes in western KY to measure groundwater storage, assessing surface water quality using nitrate stable isotope geochemistry, and investigating the microbiome health of freshwater ecosystems, Project 3 will be collecting diverse data about the quantity and quality of Kentucky’s waterways, particularly in the context of violent storms and flooding.

Project 4: MITIGATE FLOOD IMPACTS

The consequences of flash flooding, particularly in Eastern Kentucky, are devastating, as seen in 2022. The researchers in Project 4 will focus on mitigating these flood impacts through three main objectives:

1) Enhance high-resolution predictions of flash floods to monitor, detect, and simulate flash floods in real-time.

2) Study infrastructure (e.g., bridges, floodwalls, levees, roadways, sewer systems, etc.) in targeted communities in Eastern KY to create baseline conditions and target modeling efforts. Then, run simulations of the new infrastructure’s performance to adapt community strategies for floodwater management.

3) Using machine learning, and real-time improved modeling and prediction, enhance community preparedness for extreme events, and provide actionable information to mitigate loss of life and property. Campaign with local community leaders in Eastern KY to educate residents about these tools and how they can help.

A major part of the CLIMBS project is providing support for research infrastructure, through new faculty hires. Ten new hires — seven at UK, two at University of Louisville and one at Western Kentucky University — will enhance and broaden the scope of Kentucky research for years to come.

NEW FACULTY HIRES

UK logo-286c
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Projects 3, 5, & 6
0
Project 4
WKU_Tall_2c
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Project 7

Broadening scientific and diverse participation through education and outreach programs are a vital mission of both CLIMBS and KY NSF EPSCoR. Seed funding and programming from K-12 to Ph.D. levels reflect the impact of NSF funding across Kentucky, strengthening workforce development and increasing the number of students who pursue and obtain STEM degrees.

“Workforce development is a key component of CLIMBS. Broadening the participation of underrepresented groups in geosciences and engineering STEM disciplines is a major thrust of CLIMBS,” said Crofcheck, professor of biosystems engineering in the UK Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “New faculty hires will help us build stronger climate science curriculum and recruit and train graduate and undergraduate students right here in the Commonwealth who are uniquely prepared to meet Kentucky’s climate resiliency jobs of tomorrow.”

Aligned with its commitment to broader impacts, CLIMBS will fund an average of three post-doctoral scholars and 29 graduate student researchers per year across all universities and will engage up to 232 undergraduate researchers in total.

CLIMBS is specifically designed to support communities through workforce development, undergraduate student support, and community education and outreach programming. Specific projects include:

 

LEARNING HUB SCHOLARS PROGRAM

The Learning Hub Scholars program will provide experiential learning from underrepresented backgrounds in earth and atmospheric science and engineering to pursue advanced degrees in Kentucky.

Enviropods summer day camps

Enviropod Summer Day Camps and Library-Based Content Delivery will be a collaborative effort among eight Kentucky higher education institutions and libraries statewide. Through active engagement of K-12 students, their communities and educational activities, the initiative aims to enhance comprehension of earth science, stimulate interest in climate-related STEM careers and foster community resilience.