UNO researchers to use artificial intelligence to detect flood control deficiencies

Published Mar. 10, 2023

Researchers at the University of New Orleans want to use artificial intelligence to evaluate and detect potential deficiencies in the United States’ floodwater control structures. The proposal includes the creation of an automated program using unmanned aerial system imagery and other sensory data to assess the integrity and stability of the nation’s flood control systems.

UNO has been awarded a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate flood control systems.
UNO has been awarded a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate flood control systems.

The Joseph Canizaro and James Livingston Gulf States Center for Environmental Informatics (GulfSCEI, pronounced Gulfsea) at the University of New Orleans has secured a one-year contract worth $1.25 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for the research. The research will be performed jointly with USACE’s domain experts.

As part of its national flood risk management plan, the USACE has planned, designed and constructed over 700 dam and reservoir projects and more than 13,500 miles of federally authorized levees and floodwalls.

The greater New Orleans area faces a triple threat when it comes to sources of flood risk, the Mississippi River, rain and hurricane storm surge, according to Corps.

The proposed research by UNO seeks to develop and deliver a modern, automated AI-based system to evaluate deficiencies—such as slope instability, cracks, sand boils or seepage—that could lead to the failure of flood control systems with disastrous results, said computer science professor Mahdi Abdelguerfi, who is also GulfSCEI director and the project’s principal investigator.

“These processes are not easy to identify through manual and costly visual inspections before or during flood events,” Abdelguerfi said. “This system will provide a solid framework for USACE decision-makers, emergency planners and stakeholders in making rapid decisions, especially during times when our nation’s flood control systems may be in jeopardy during flood events or when intense tropical storms are directly threatening the integrity of aging water resources infrastructure.”

The USACE contract will fund a senior research associate, two postdoctoral research associates, three doctoral research assistants and four undergraduate research assistants. The grant comes with options for up to two additional years of funding at a similar yearly level, Abdelguerfi said.

“This new USACE funding, coupled with an ongoing nearly $2 million research contract from the Department of the Navy, will enable GulfSCEI to hire additional research staff and research assistants, thereby, greatly expanding the research footprint of the research center,” Abdelguerfi said.