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University of Miami receives stimulus funds for study of hurricane impacts on structures, ecosystems

MIAMI Hurricanes are the costliest natural disasters that strike the United States. A better understanding of how structures withstand -- or fail to withstand a hurricane could lead to improved construction standards and practices designed to protect human lives and enhance resiliency.

The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) of the U.S. Department of Commerce today announced that the University of Miami (UM) has been awarded a $15 million grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). These Recovery Act dollars will help to create new jobs in Miami-Dade County through the construction of a new building on the University's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (Rosenstiel School) campus. The facility will allow scientists to study how structures and their surrounding environment are affected during tropical cyclones (hurricanes). The project will be part of an integrated seawater laboratory building that will also house a state-of-the-art Marine Life Science Center. Target for completion of the building is Summer 2012.

"We are thrilled with the prospect of this new research building, which will help us further investigate how hurricanes and other extreme weather phenomena affect our natural and manmade environment," said Dr. Roni Avissar, dean of the Rosenstiel School at the University of Miami. "The facility will allow us to continue to expand our research capabilities and attract the highest caliber of Earth system scientists and engineers from around the world. It will provide a unique environment for scientists and engineers to work side by side on solutions for crucial problems facing humanity."

The structure is designed to be environmentally sustainable and LEED Certified. It will consist of two distinct, but interconnected components: an 8,520 square foot state-of-the-art Surge-Structure-Atmosphere Interaction (SUSTAIN) research facility and a Marine Life Science Center.

The SUSTAIN laboratory will be the only facility in the world with a wind-wave-storm surge simulator capable of generating hurricane force winds in a 3D test environment. The seawater pumped into the new building daily will allow scientists to directly observe and quantify critical storm factors, such as sea spray and momentum transfers across the ocean's surface in extreme wind conditions. SUSTAIN will be used to develop and implement advanced sensor technology, including remote and optical imaging systems that can be deployed in hurricanes. This innovative experimental test bed will also contribute to the knowledge needed for the development of the next generation of high-resolution fluid dynamic models, which help forecasters and emergency response planners throughout the hurricane season.

In a truly interdisciplinary manner, the facility will offer the capability to physically model entire segments of coastal communities, so engineers can study changes in the way buildings are designed and built. Equipment for the study of wind-driven rain/spray will also enable advances in the science related to moisture intrusion in structures.

"This new research facility creates an unprecedented opportunity for synergy and collaboration between disciplines in our attempt to address the impact of extreme loads (wind and surge) on the built infrastructure," said SUSTAIN Co-Principal Investigator Antonio Nanni, professor and chair of Civil and Architectural Engineering in the UM College of Engineering and director of NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center on Repair of Buildings, Bridges and Composites. "Research directed at the development of stronger and safer structures and communities is critical for the present and future well-being of society."

The Marine Life Science Center, co-located within the facility, will focus on coral reef research, helping to assess and measure the effects of climate change and ocean acidification on corals and reef-building processes. Scientists at the Center will also conduct fisheries and biological oceanography research to generate models of the biological and physical processes that affect the distribution of marine organisms and their connectivity. The Center will also offer opportunities for collaborations in understanding the connections between the oceans and human health including studies of harmful algal blooms, the effects of toxins in the marine environment as well as developing aquatic animal models of human diseases such as neurodegeneration.

"Currently, about 60 percent of people worldwide live in a coastal region, and here in the United States it is expected that by 2025 nearly 75 percent of the population will live in a coastal area," said SUSTAIN Principal Investigator Brian Haus, associate professor of Applied Marine Physics and director of UM's Air-Sea Interaction Saltwater (ASIST) Facility. "Developing a more complete understanding of our environment and its weather, as well as the weather's effects on structures, ecosystems and even on human health is essential. This building will provide an excellent resource to help us to decipher what is taking place on the planet."

Professor Brian Haus led the proposal to establish this new facility with the participation of co-Principal Investigators Robert Cowen, Maytag professor of ichthyology and UM chair of Marine Biology and Fisheries; Hans Graber, UM professor and chair of Applied Marine Physics and director of the Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing (CSTARS); and Professor Antonio Nanni of UM's College of Engineering.


Contact: Barbra Gonzalez
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science

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University of Miami receives stimulus funds for study of hurricane impacts on structures, ecosystems
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