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MSU/CAVS Faculty Research Featured in Science Magazine

August 25, 2015

A Mississippi State University assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and CAVS faculty member is the lead author on a letter published on August 21st in Science magazine. Farshid Vahedifard, an MSU Bagley College of Engineering faculty member since 2012, is lead author on the letter titled "Drought threatens California's levees." Additional authors are Amir AghaKouchak of University of California, Irvine, and MSU civil engineering graduate student Joe D. Robinson of Meridian, Vahedifard's advisee.

The letter discusses the threats that ongoing extreme drought poses on California's levee systems and highlights an urgent need to invest in research regarding the vulnerabilities of these systems under extreme climatic events. Earthen levees protect dry land from floods and function as water storage and management systems, the letter states. Vahedifard points to a 2011 report by the California Department of Water Resources which says that over 21,000 kilometers of earthen levees deliver approximately two-thirds of potable water to more than 23 million Californians and protect more than $47 billion worth of homes and businesses from flooding.

However, current drought conditions pose "a great risk to an already endangered levee system," the authors warn. Drought conditions and particularly drought ensued by heavy rainfall and flooding may cause similar catastrophic failures in California's levee systems as seen in 2008 along river banks of the Murray River at the peak of Australia's Millennium Drought and in 2003 in the Netherlands' Wilnis Levee.

Vahedifard, who completed a second master's degree and his doctoral work in civil engineering at the University of Delaware after completing previous academic work in Iran, said the commentary is important because there is very little information published about the effect of drought on the performance of critical infrastructures. The civil engineer who specializes in geotechnical engineering added that the National Levee Database shows that only around 10 percent of U.S. levees are rated as "acceptable," with the rest being rated as "minimally acceptable" or "unacceptable," indicating that the levee has a minor deficiency or the levee cannot serve as a reliable flood protection structure, respectively.

To view the full article, please see: Mississippi State University News