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PEI Urban Challenge awards $348,000 to new urban sustainability projects

Posted by: 
Morgan Kelly
Publish Date: 
Monday, September 18, 2017 - 12:30pm

GCExtreme ocean waves, severe thunderstorms and urban flooding, and a sophomore urban-design course make up the latest round of projects funded by the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) Urban Grand Challenges program. Totaling $348,000, the new awards are active from 2017 to 2019.

The Urban Challenge is PEI's newest Grand Challenges program. It combines the study of the natural and built environments to address the interrelated environmental and social issues facing the world's rapidly expanding urban areas in a world of increasing environmental volatility. To that end, the Urban Challenge supports and encourages interdisciplinary faculty and student research at Princeton in the environmental sciences, engineering, architecture, the humanities, policy, the creative arts and the social sciences. Results from these projects are not only published, but also form the basis of community outreach efforts. In addition, each project includes an educational component — particularly in the form of Princeton courses and PEI internships — that perpetuates the knowledge needed for a sustainable future.

The most recently funded endeavors are described below.

"Cloudburst" Storms in the New York-New Jersey Metropolitan Region

James Smith and Yi MingJames Smith, the William and Edna Macaleer Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, and Yi Ming, head of the GFDL Atmospheric Physics and Climate Group and a lecturer in geosciences, will study the threat of urban flooding caused by severe thunderstorms, or "cloudbursts." By studying extreme rainfall in the urban corridor of the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region — including in the Washington Road stream that runs through Princeton's campus — the researchers plan to develop analyses and models that can be used to understand the hazards of severe storm-related flooding in urban areas worldwide. In particular, the project will focus on how the structure, formation and movement of severe storms are, or will be, influenced by the heat and pollution retained by urban areas; terrain and land-water boundaries; and the effects of climate change. The project will draw upon the many monitoring sites established through Princeton's Campus-as-Lab program, and data from these sites will be integrated into multiple courses, including a new course, "The Integrity of Princeton's Natural Areas."


Extreme Wave Breaking in Coastal Urban Areas

Luc Deike, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and the Princeton Environmental Institute, will work to expand our fundamental understanding of the effect of extreme breaking waves on beaches and vertical walls, which will be necessary to develop preparedness plans for coastal urban areas. Rapid urbanization and population growth along the world's coastlines have increased the potential destruction that flooding from storm surges, or extreme breaking waves, can deliver upon urban populations and infrastructures. At the same time, sea-level rise caused by climate change will likely increase the occurrence and severity of these devastating floods.

Luc Deike

Deike will focus on three areas intended to improve storm-flood and risk analysis for urban areas: the strain breaking waves put on beaches, sea walls and surge barriers; the damage caused by "run-up," or the water that washes inland; and the health effects of sea spray from extreme breaking waves in presence of red tides. His research will be based on simulations carried out at the University's supercomputer facility, Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering (PICSciE). The project also will serve as the basis for a collaborative National Science Foundation proposal for the development of storm-surge barriers and the study of how coastal cities can adapt to current and future changes in climate.


The Sophomore Interdisciplinary Design Urban Studio

Mario Gandelsonas, the Class of 1913 Lecturer in Architecture and professor of architecture, developed a new track in urban design for the interdisciplinary course, "The Sophomore Interdisciplinary Design Urban Studio" (ARC 205). The track focuses on the connections between climate, energy and urban environments and was designed in collaboration with the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU) at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. Students will focus on in-depth case studies of urban water infrastructure and work on their final projects with FAU faculty members. During fall recess, the students will travel to Brazil for a joint presentation of their projects. Site visits around São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro will provide first-hand experience of the urban-design issues discussed in class. In particular, students will visit one of the eco-ports of the Hidroanel, a 170-kilometer water ring under construction in São Paulo and a major urban infrastructural project.

Mario Gandelsonas