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Dr. Anagnostou Awarded NASA Precipitation Grant

Dr. Emmanouil Anagnostou, associate professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, and co-PI Dr. Amvrossios Bagtzoglou, associate professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, were awarded over $433,000 to conduct research intended to improve flood prediction using satellite data. The three-year grant was awarded by NASA under the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, a program that supports use of satellites to study precipitation on Earth.

Dr. Anagnostou explained that their goal is to bridge the gap between satellite precipitation data, which provides meteorological information on a gross scale, and local Earth-based systems, to develop prediction methods that offer greater accuracy and span geographic and political barriers. “We plan to assess the potential for improving flood/water cycling predictability on the basis of current and future space based precipitation observational capabilities.”

In November, he traveled to Ethiopia with assistant professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering Mekonnen Gebremichael to propose the idea of targeting the Nile River for the study. They presented the idea before the Nile Basin Initiative forum, a group formed in 2002 to advance dialogue concerning riparian rights and use, and to work toward a shared vision for the future of the Nile. The Nile spans nine countries and is fed by two great tributaries: the White Nile, which begins in equatorial East Africa, and the Blue Nile, which begins in Ethiopia. The longest river in the world, at over 4,100 miles, the Nile courses through Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Egypt, flowing through diverse terrain and climates, from the arid northern portions to tropical southern locales. Water use is a source of friction among the nations through which the Nile passes, with Egypt consuming the largest volume.

Nile precipitation data is currently collected at the local or national level, said Dr. Anagnostou, without coordination or communication among other nations. Often, the flood prediction equipment used is not maintained and falls into disrepair, or personnel assigned to monitor and maintain the equipment are inadequately trained, said Dr. Anagnostou. Additionally, political and cultural barriers can prevent regions that are tracking precipitation data from sharing it with other regions who are also stakeholders.

Drs. Anagnostou and Gebremichael believe a system that collects precipitation data from a satellite can be used to effectively predict floods without reliance on local equipment and political interference from governments that are at odds. Satellites can provide a consistent data set and be operated by one institution that subsequently disseminates the data to all stakeholders. But satellites suffer limitations of their own, notably the problem of scale and resolution in detecting metrological sites. The algorithms used by satellites for rainfall detection are also prone to biases and errors that limit their effectiveness in modeling fine-scale metrological activities.

During the three-year project Dr. Anagnostou hopes to demonstrate that Earth-orbiting satellites can be used to effectively predict floods. He will seek to determine what parameters affect accuracy, including size of the body of water as viewed from Earth orbit, and to develop accurate modeling techniques that – combined with the imaging data captured at three-hour intervals – can aid in predicting floods. His research is expected to improve the success of hydrologic prediction from satellite precipitation estimates, thereby reducing the impact of flood events along the rivers studied.

Dr. Anagnostou said that his visit to Ethiopia allowed him to present the potential use of his team’s NASA and NSF-funded African lightning detection network to advance satellite-based estimation and short-range (1-2 days) forecasting of precipitation for the entire Nile basin. “Information on precipitation variability over the whole basin is critical to support a basin-wide decision support system that is under development with World Bank funds,” he said. The Nile Basin Initiative members, particularly representatives of the World Bank, expressed interest in funding the activity. During the visit, Drs. Anagnostou and Gebremichael also proposed that Addis Ababa University establish a summer school in the area of hydro-meteorology, climate and water cycle processes. Addis Ababa faculty were receptive to the notion, and Drs. Anagnostou and Gebremichael are seeking financing to establish the program.