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June 2016

Previous Alberta floods to provide essential data for prediction software

At a glance
The intern

Ashwini Petchiappan from the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli, India

Hosted by

Dr. Jennifer He at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering

The research

Assessing the efficiency of flood forecasting systems

The devastating impacts of flooding are widely understood, but for Mitacs Globalink intern Ashwini Petchiappan they hit close to home. Ashwini and her family were living in Mumbai when the city experienced a catastrophic flood in 2005. In one day, the megacity received 944mm of rainfall — the average amount for the entire season.

Electricity, water supplies, communication networks, and public transportation were totally shut down. When her parents were unable to get home, Ashwini knew she wanted to do something to better warn people.

This summer, Ashwini has travelled to Canada through the Mitacs Globalink program to do research with Dr. Jennifer He at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering. Their research focuses on using weather forecasts to predict extreme events such as floods and develop suitable warning times.

“Forecasting floods with a long lead time gives people more time for warning, so mitigation activities can be done earlier,” says Ashwini. To better understand how this can be done, she’s poring over weather forecasts and flood data (including data from the 2013 southern Alberta flood) from the last century to create an event-based model. Ashwini’s research will help create software that could reduce flood damages by providing longer lead times and increased accuracy.

Working with a supportive team, Ashwini says her internship is giving her global exposure to learn more about the world and other cultures:

“Globalink is providing me with communication tools to work with other people and the confidence I need to embark on a research career.”

Once she returns home, Ashwini plans to continue her research with the goal of seeing suitable flood forecasting systems developed in India in the next decade. 

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and Alberta Innovates for their support of the Globalink Research Internship program in this story. Across Canada, the Globalink program also receives support from the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewanand Research Manitoba.

In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with international partners to support Globalink, including Universities Australia, the China Scholarship Council, Campus France, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord. 

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