KAUST Scientists Working to Predict Extreme Weather

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rof. Ibrahim Hoteit, Principal Investigator of the Earth Fluid Modeling and Prediction group.

Prof. Ibrahim Hoteit, Principal Investigator of the Earth Fluid Modeling and Prediction group.

KAUST University in Saudi Arabia reports that researchers are using simulation to better understand severe weather events that have caused catastrophic flooding and loss of life in the region.

One such event has served as a prime mover for research. Shortly following KAUST’s Inauguration in 2009, over 140 millimeters of rain fell over the Jeddah region within a mere eight hours, causing in excess of 100 fatalities and resulting in an economic setback of over $100M.

All this rain coming at the same time, in a matter of few hours, meant the water had nowhere to go; so it went into the streets,” said KAUST’s Ibrahim Hoteit, Associate Professor of Earth Sciences and Engineering and Principal Investigator of the Earth Fluid Modeling and Prediction group. Flash floods present a particular challenge in arid areas with limited sewage systems. “The rain doesn’t get quickly absorbed in this region.” As Prof. Hoteit further explains: “We’re trying to reconstruct the rain event that happened during the 2009 and 2001 floods using modeling and observations.” As he emphasizes, “models predict the future data and the data guide the model toward the truth.”

In an effort to build forecasting models meant to predict extreme marine and weather events, Prof. Hoteit and his group also rely on ocean and atmospheric observations. For any environmental model to be effective, it’s important to complement it with actual data collected from the whole region and locally. Working with data sets collected from Saudi Aramco, from PME, as well as from satellite data, KAUST was able to develop a 14-year reanalysis (from the years 2000 to 2014) of atmospheric conditions over the Red Sea at a 10-kilometer resolution – one of the highest and most accurate of its kind in the region.

Prof. Hoteit’s team works in the Red Sea is part of this project providing vital predictive models. Outputs from these models could for instance be used for optimizing the operation of autonomous robotic gliders deployed in the Red Sea on observational survey missions. Since these gliders operate at a specific speed, real-time data about the speed and direction of Red Sea currents is vital. If water is moving past the glider in the opposite direction it will go backwards, stalling operational progress.
“It’s thanks to a combination between high performance computing, visualization and physics,” said Prof. Hoteit. “Really, few institutions have access to this type of technology.”

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