NOAA awards Auburn team $1.5M to research resilient transportation infrastructure

Published: Sep 16, 2021 12:00 AM

By Jeremy Henderson

As part of its highly competitive Effects of Sea Level Rise (ESLR) program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has selected an interdisciplinary team of Auburn University researchers to lead a $1.539M project to address increasingly critical needs necessary for resilient infrastructure.

The project is also supported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which defines “resilience” as “the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions.”

“It’s a great honor to be selected from a field of applicants that are, no doubt, some of the most talented scientists, engineers and researchers in the world on these topics,” said team leader Benjamin Bowers, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering specializing in sustainable and resilient pavements. “The major issues that the Gulf Coast, especially, have dealt with this year due to hurricanes and flooding shows just how important meeting these challenges to our communities have become.”

According to NOAA, the United States incurred $22 billion worth of damage stemming from weather and climate —  up from $14 billion in both 2019 and 2018.

Bowers’ team will specifically assist engineers and coastal community leaders working on the Fort Morgan peninsula along the Gulf of Mexico in South Alabama.

“This area is unique in that it has a coastal (Gulf) side, a bay-side, and is consistent in geography with many of the barrier islands up and down the eastern seaboard,” Bowers said. “That makes the applicability of our study pretty wide-ranging.”

The study primarily seeks to develop a better scientific understanding of how increased disruptions caused by sea level rise or storm surge impact pavements, and how tools such as Natural and Nature Based Features (NNBF) can benefit infrastructure.

“There is a heavy emphasis on enhancing the modeling storm and groundwater impacts from a hydraulic and hydrological perspective, figuring out how to incorporate that information into pavement design, and also assessing the economic and social benefits of leveraging nature-based solutions to protect our infrastructure,” Bowers said. “We’re excited to think about practical and implementable solutions such as developing pavement deterioration curves that reflect storm surge impact, for instance.”

In addition to employing standard vehicular data collection techniques, the team will deploy instruments both within and alongside sections of pavement to capture the impacts of hydrological disruptions during, shortly after and long after disruptions subside.

Team members include Auburn water resources engineers and hydrologists Jose Vasconcelos and Frances O’Donnell, along with geotechnical engineer Brian Anderson.

Rob Holmes, a landscape architecture professor, and expert in resilient measures from Auburn’s College of Architecture and Design and Wendiam Sawadgo, an agricultural economics and rural sociologist from the College of Agriculture, will also lead various aspects of the project.

Additionally, Bret Webb, a coastal Engineer and resilience expert from the University of South Alabama, and Daniel Wright, an expert in modeling extreme rainfall from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will also have critical roles.

Bowers said the team will consult with the Alabama Department of Transportation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and community leaders, along with representatives from NOAA and FHWA, to ensure that the project’s benefits are maximized.

“We set out to build a team that would be fun to work with, we all enjoy each other and respect the knowledge, ideas, and talent each person brings to the table,” Bowers said. “We make a really good team, and we’re excited to get to work.”

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson,, 334-844-3591
NOAA has granted Auburn University researchers $1.5M to help mitigate impacts of sea level rise.

NOAA has granted Auburn University researchers $1.5M to help mitigate impacts of sea level rise.

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