Computer Science Team Conducts Storm Surge Simulation Research in Alaska

Dr. Eranna Guruvadoo & Anthony Windmon

This summer, computer engineering student Anthony Windmon was a long way from his Fort Lauderdale, Florida home. He breathed in fresh Alaskan air, relished long hours of daylight, and basked in the feeling of writing fully functional code.

“I think anyone who works in the computer science field will agree that it is always significant and exciting when code that you wrote actually works,” said Windmon, a senior at Bethune-Cookman University (BCU) in Florida and a recent participant in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Summer Research Team (SRT) Program for Minority Serving Institutions.

“For me, writing codes that worked—and worked in the way that I intended—was every bit an exhilarating experience.”

The program aims to increase and enhance the scientific leadership at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) in research areas that support the mission and goals of DHS. The program provides faculty and student research teams the opportunity to conduct research at the university-based DHS Centers of Excellence (DHS Centers). The SRT Program and DHS Centers are sponsored by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate Office of University Programs.

At the Arctic Domain Awareness Center (ADAC), Windmon and Eranna Guruvadoo, Ph.D., his professor from Bethune-Cookman University, used their coding skills to help improve a forecasting model of storm surges for Norton Sound. The inlet on the western coast of Alaska lacks transportation infrastructure for quick emergency evacuations.

The mission of the ADAC is to improve maritime situational awareness and crisis response to emerging maritime challenges in the dynamic arctic environment. Windmon and Guruvadoo’s high-resolution forecasting model provides a tool the ADAC can use to create disaster response strategies for the thousands of people who live along the coast.

The current forecasting model is of coarse resolution; it can be zoomed in to depict an area 5 kilometers across, or 3.1 miles. Under the mentorship of Thomas Ravens, Ph.D., professor and associate dean of research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Windmon and Guruvadoo worked on a model that produces a finer resolution of 1 kilometer across, or 0.62 miles.

“The forecasting model could be the difference between life and death for many residents along Alaska’s western coast,” said Windmon.

Windmon spent the majority of his summer writing code, using the programming language Python™ that enables the forecasting model to collect weather data in real time. He also manipulated the model to run on a Windows® operating system in addition to Linux.

Through this research, he acquired new programming skills, learned how to use the modeling software Delft 3D and gained unparalleled experience researching with a cross-disciplinary team.

“My favorite part of the DHS SRT MSI Program was researching with enthusiastic people who shared the same interests and were excited about accomplishing great things,” said Windmon, who presented his summer research this fall at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s 2nd International Environmental Youth Symposium in Atlanta, Ga.

“While working in a group, I tend to feed off the energy of my teammates, and the energy level was typically high and infectious within my group. Being in a group like that motivates me and encourages me to push myself beyond my limits.”

Guruvadoo also enjoyed the upbeat, passionate atmosphere and made it a priority to continue his ADAC collaboration beyond the program’s conclusion. If funded, he will develop a proof of concept to extend the summer research work for Norton Sound to other coastal areas of Alaska.

“I really enjoyed working with the researchers at the ADAC,” he said. “The entire DHS SRT MSI experience was unique in many ways—the place, the collaborators and the support team. If given another opportunity, I would definitely participate in the program again and would encourage others to do so as well.”

After Windmon graduates in December, he plans to pursue a job in industry before obtaining his master’s degree or doctorate in computer science. His long-term goal is to be a college professor, and he is currently brainstorming a YouTube channel for students and professionals to gain refreshers on computer science and engineering concepts. Because of his summer research experience, he feels more equipped to make his dreams a reality.

“The program inspired me to a dig a lot deeper into myself to figure out future goals and plans,” he said. “Overall, the experience was awesome, and being in Alaska was totally different and amazing. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a unique research experience.”

The DHS SRT Program is funded by DHS and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) through an interagency agreement between DOE and DHS. ORISE is managed by ORAU for DOE.