Rice University scientists will research the short- and long-term impact of extreme flooding in and around Houston during Tropical Storm Harvey with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
A project led by Lauren Stadler, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, will take the long view as researchers study the mobilization of chemical and microbial contaminants and how long deposits may persist in impacted areas.
The Rice team will compare Harvey data with studies from previous floods to learn general principles about how disease spreads in their aftermath. They will also look at how microbial communities change as a result of extreme flooding.
The NSF approved a one-year, $200,000 Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant a week after Stadler applied for it. RAPID grants support research of natural disasters and unanticipated events for which time is a factor in gathering data.
“The RAPID funding mechanism through NSF will enable us to collect time-sensitive and urgent data in the aftermath of Harvey,” Stadler said. “Our team is already on the ground collecting samples and preserving them for analysis.”
Colleagues on the project include James Elliott, a professor of sociology and a fellow at Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research; Qilin Li, a Rice professor of civil and environmental engineering and of materials science and nanoengineering; and Pedro Alvarez, the George R. Brown Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, a professor of chemistry and of materials science and nanoengineering and director of the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT).
The results will inform the design and deployment of NEWT’s emergency-response treatment technologies to target specific contaminants. Alvarez said the prime goal will be to protect the city’s most vulnerable populations after a flood.
“This survey will advance understanding of the risks of disease propagation following floods, find and characterize hot spots for pathogenic bacteria and toxic chemicals to inform remedial action selection and describe the dynamics of natural attenuation of these pollutants over the following year,” Alvarez said.
Stadler said Rice professors will integrate their findings into their courses and develop teaching materials that will be made available to the public.