Research & Innovation

Stevens Research Advances in Rebuild by Design

Hurricane Sandy’s landfall in October of 2012 devastated communities across the Northeast coast of the United States, wreaking havoc without regard for state or county lines. The ongoing struggle to recover from Sandy’s cataclysmic force is a shared regional problem – even more so, preparing for a future of rising sea levels and higher floods demands a united, regional endeavor.

“Research at Stevens Institute of Technology extends its interests beyond any one political jurisdiction or any one project,” according to Michael Bruno, Feiler Chair Professor and Dean, Schaefer School of Engineering and Science. 

“We have a wealth of talented faculty with interests across the spectrum of possibilities, helping to bring solid science to every challenge,” says Bruno.

In another example, currently, two teams from Stevens have been selected from among from the 149 world-class design teams for the final phases of the Rebuild by Design competition. Rebuild by Design focuses on bringing innovation in design to advance resilience in the Sandy-impacted region, an initiative of the President’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

One team of researchers, led by SCAPE studios and its design director Kate Orff, included three Stevens’ researchers and was named one of six winning teams for their science-driven methodology that pairs layered eco-infrastructural systems sited for risk-reduction with social and educational networks, rebuilding water based infrastructures in tandem with surrounding communities.

“When there is a disaster, the political response by government is to try to help people and to stop the same disaster from happening again”, says Philip Orton, research assistant professor at Stevens Institute’s Center for Maritime Systems/Davidson Laboratory.  “However, when it comes to coastal flooding, due to accelerating sea level rise it’s also important to have some sort of long-term thinking, which is what this competition was about.  We were excited about the opportunity, and even more excited to have been able to contribute to a winning project addressing this problem."

Orton explains that the living breakwaters project reduces risk, revives ecologies, and connects educators to the shoreline, inspiring a new generation of harbor stewards and a more resilient region over time.

”During Sandy, lives were tragically lost, and homes and parks were severely damaged. Moving forward, we can foster a vibrant water-based culture, invest in our students, shoreline ecologies and economies," says Orton. 

The work of Orton and Sergey Vinogradov, research scientist in the Davidson Laboratory, included using computer models to simulate storm surges and waves, and to study how the coastal adaptation strategies reduced them.   Recent Stevens PhD recipient and current post-doc Andrew Rella was also a member of the team, collaborating with SeArc Consulting on oyster reef materials.

Kate Orff, the team leader at SCAPE, states, “Communities that were flooded by Sandy face complex decisions about the future, and a quantification of flood and wave risk-reduction is a useful tool to understand these direct physical benefits of ecological infrastructure. Having developed a suite of strategies that could be applicable for coastal protection against storm surges, it was imperative that the Stevens team tested their performance using the latest scientific tools." 
WXY/WEST8 was selected as a finalist for Rebuild by Design, a team that includes Dr. Alan F. Blumberg
, Director of the Davidson Laboratory, Stevens Institute of Technology.

Team WXY/West 8 is investigating a regional design strategy to fundamentally reduce storm surge and 
its associated physical and financial risks to the coastal areas of New York, northern New Jersey
 and Connecticut. The team’s proposal hypothesizes that a system of constructed offshore islands could significantly reduce the height of storm surges throughout the region – a measure that would directly save lives and mitigate destruction for communities all along the coast.

To test this hypothesis, Dr. Blumberg and his flood modeling group took Team WXY/West 8 preliminary design schemes into surge models developed at the Stevens Institute of Technology – the same institution entrusted to advise New York City’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resilience, as well as the City’s effort to update federal flood- zone maps accounting for sea level rise. Initial models of an arrangement of barrier islands 10 miles off the Atlantic Coast produced meaningful reductions in surge levels, suggesting a more detailed study be conducted. Such an outcome would offset projections for sea-level rise, buying the region a century of time to develop carefully-considered plans for the future, and immediately reducing outlay for other protective measures along the coast.

Moving forward, Team WXY/West 8 will scrutinize 
the proposal further and from multiple perspectives
– developing a region-wide cost benefit analysis; creating an implementation plan that addresses policy and governance strategies in addition to physical construction and engineering issues; and exploring the potential environmental benefits that these new offshore landscapes might provide. Acknowledging that mitigation planning is critical to a resilient urban future, Team WXY/West 8 is extending the concept
of mitigation to include the natural environment and its processes, establishing a more comprehensive notion of emergency relief and a more sustainable plan for resilience, and proposing a regional financing structure to pay for costs of protective systems.

Dr. Blumberg is also working with the NY City Mayor’s office
 on the effects of sea level rise on coastal flooding, with the NJ Governor’s Office on statewide storm surge reduction alternatives and with NASA and NOAA assessing impacts from storms of the future. Presently, he leads the New York Harbor Observation and Prediction System (NYHOPS), which facilitate an assessment of ocean, weather, and environmental conditions throughout the New York Harbor region. Dr. Blumberg will support the team’s close analysis of current coastal flooding conditions and predictive modeling for future designs.

“Stevens is interested in, and is developing the technology to understand the short and long-term (and near and far field) impacts of the combination of projects envisioned by the Rebuild by Design competition and by other Federal, State and local projects underway or currently being planned,” says Bruno.