UT to Receive NSF Grant to Study Climate Change

KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Engineering’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) in partnership with the Computational Sciences and Engineering Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Minnesota, are the recipients of a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the project “Understanding Climate Change: A Data Driven Approach.” UT Knoxville’s segment of the total grant will be $900,000 over a five-year period.

Auroop Ganguly, a senior research and development staff member at ORNL and a joint faculty member with the CEE, is the lead principal investigator (PI) from UT Knoxville. The overall project director and lead PI is Vipin Kumar from the University of Minnesota.

The primary focus of the project will be on closing important knowledge gaps in climate extremes by utilizing predictive skills of climate models, data-guided insights from remote and in-situ sensor based observations as well as archived model simulations, and conceptual climate process understanding at multiple scales.

“Physics-based model simulations will directly inform data mining approaches while insights from data mining will be interpreted based on climate science insights and hopefully motivate advances in climate science,” Ganguly said. “The complexity of climate data and the nature of the problems require a blend of state-of-the-art and innovative computational approaches.”

Future improvements in climate science and models relevant for extremes and regional change are not expected to keep pace with the urgency of stakeholder requirements. This project will attempt to bridge this fundamental gap by extracting hidden information content from the relatively more credible climate model projections to improve predictive insights of more crucial variables at local to regional scales of interest. Overall, the project is expected to complement climate models with data-guided knowledge discovery approaches to lead to innovative and important solutions in climate change, one of the most important challenges facing the world in coming years.

Dayakar Penumadu, professor and head of the CEE department, said having a unique joint faculty program with ORNL was a key requirement for successfully securing this grant.

“This grant from NSF is a clear indication of the high quality research in this evolving and multi-disciplinary research area being pursued by UT Knoxville faculty and the lead researchers from the University of Minnesota as well as with ORNL,” Penumadu added.

According to Penumadu, significant new initiatives are currently underway at UT Knoxville to identify and hire up to four Governors Chairs jointly between the university and ORNL in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering to significantly enhance the two institutions’ scientific contributions to the field of climate science. The CEE department is also actively recruiting faculty in the areas of climate change and its impact on both the environmental and civil infrastructure, including water resources and air quality.

Administration of the funding will be through NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science (CISE) and is part of that directorate’s “Expeditions in Computing,” which are among their largest investments in research projects.

The interdisciplinary project features 13 PIs from seven institutions and includes computer scientists, statisticians, climate scientists, hydrologists, ecologists and data management scientists. The final project selection phase consisted of a reverse site visit to NSF that involved presentations to a distinguished panel. The project team included four PIs, Kumar and three computer scientists, as well as Ganguly, who discussed the area of climate extremes, uncertainty and impacts on critical infrastructures and key resources.

For more information on the College of Engineering, visit http://www.engr.utk.edu.

C O N T A C T :

Kim Cowart (865-974-0686, kcowart@utk.edu)

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