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New Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Natural Disaster Management

November 2nd, 2012 in Funding

Chile announced a five-year grant to form a new National Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Natural Disaster Management. The center will develop, integrate, and transfer scientific knowledge to help deal more effectively with the consequences of natural disasters. This initiative is a wide, integrative and interdisciplinary research effort aimed at transforming Chile into a world-recognized pole of excellence for the scientific study of extreme natural disaster scenarios.

The award of the FONDAP program —announced just days ago— was made after a stringent evaluation in a highly competitive process involving an international panel of experts. The lead institution is the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, PUC) and the partners are: Universidad Católica del Norte (UCN), Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María (UTFSM) and Universidad Nacional Andrés Bello (UNAB).

Chile’s physical environment is highly dynamic and diverse, with frequent occurrences of large events of tectonic origin (earthquakes, tsunamis and volcano eruptions), extreme climatic events (heavy rains, flash floods, storm surges), and subsequent threats that may arise as a combination of these (landslides, lahars, debris flows, or severe air pollution episodes).

Chile is also going through major socioeconomic transformations: having joined the OECD, it is expected to become a developed nation within the next decade. Economic growth has increased built-environment exposure to natural disasters, while also decreasing population tolerance to its consequences. The expected growth will only increase the challenges and demands in terms of social equity, urban and territorial planning, and environmental and industrial co-existence.  From both natural and social sciences perspectives, Chile can be viewed as a complex laboratory, where the latest models and theories on hazard propagation and impact, or disaster mitigation and management can be tested, improved and further developed.

During its first 5 years, the Center will focus on the study of earthquake, tsunamis, and floods, promoting national and international alliances to address the different related research areas —from geophysics and engineering, to psychology, sociology, decision and communication sciences.

The center’s six interconnected Research Lines are:

  1. Solid Earth Processes,
  2. Surface Water Processes,
  3. Risk Assessment,
  4. Disaster Management,
  5. Sustainable Risk Mitigation, and
  6. Information, Communication and Automation Technologies.

Through them, it will contribute to elucidate the factors influencing the interactions and response of the affected populations, the local organizations, the regional and central governments, infrastructure, lifelines and industrial facilities, under realistic Extreme Event Scenarios. The main goal of the Center will be to support the country in the design and implementation of cost-effective mitigation measures to achieve less exposed, better prepared, and more resilient communities and territories.

Center Director

Luis Cifuentes, Structural Engineer (PUC), PhD. in Engineering and Public Policies (Carnegie Mellon University, USA), Associate Professor, Industrial Engineering Department, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Photograph above, right.)

Deputy Director

Rodrigo Cienfuegos, Hydraulic Engineer (PUC), PhD. in Earth Sciences (Université de Grenoble, France), Associate Professor, Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering Department, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Photograph above, left.)

Prof. Rodrigo Cienfuegos will be an invited speaker at the PASI.

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Catalan awarded grant to develop tsunami forecast database

October 24th, 2012 in Funding

Tsunamis are among the most significant large-scale hazards to which many coastal communities  around the world are exposed, and Chile is no exception. In fact, the country’s high seismicity  along the subduction zone between the Nazca and Sudamerican plates has triggered many tsunami events since records are kept. Its long stretch of coast is also exposed to trans-oceanic tsunamis generated elsewhere around the Pacific Ocean.

There are several ways to increase resilience of coastal communities to this hazard. An efficient tsunami warning system is especially valuable to alert coastal communities and prepare goverment and emergency response authorities. Chile’s long coastline and proximity to the fault zone, however, pose significant challenges for the accurate and fast determination of relevant parameters such as the arrival time and wave characteristics along the coast.

Prof. Patricio Catalán is the Principal Investigator of a new award of over US$700,000 by FONDEF-CONICYT to develop and implement a database of pre-modeled tsunami scenarios, using high-performance computing. This project is a collaboration involving researchers from the Civil Engineering Department (Departamento de Obras Civiles) at Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María, the Scientific and Technological Center of Valparaiso (Centro Cientifico Tecnológico de Valparaíso, CCTVal), Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the National Hydrographic and Oceanic Service of the Navy (SHOA). The three-year project aims to develop a forecast database similar to that available in countries such as Japan and Malaysia.

The extent of the Chilean coast and large range of tsunami magnitudes means that populating the database using traditional tsunami numerical models would take a very long tim. The research group will address this by developing and implementing tsunami modeling techniques that take advantage of the performance of Graphic Processing Units, GPUs.

The interval between events is used to populate the database, and in case of an event, table look-up procedures are used to find the best match between pre-computed scenarios and actual earthquake parameters, thus reducing the evaluation time to a mimimum.

Other products of the proposal include a detailed benchmarking of models and analysis of the 2010 Chilean tsunami, and the development of tsunami modeling guidelines.

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