Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Red River flooding shows broken US flood policy.


Freezing temperatures are locking up water for now and the Red River's level is dropping at Fargo, but may climb yet again next week.

Here's an interesting piece from the NY Times contrasting Grand Forks, which suffered $1.5 billion in damages in 1997 and subsequently built a federally-subsidized $409 million floodwall, and Fargo, which escaped devastation during that flood and was unable to get sufficient federal funding. There was apparently some unwillingness among Fargo residents as well--most people don't want a big wall between them and the river unless it's threatening them.

This AP story is shocking. Despite more than adequate warning and a long history of flooding, only a small percentage of Fargo residents have flood insurance:

Federal Emergency Management Agency reports show that in the besieged city of Fargo, N.D., with a population of 92,000, only 586 homeowners have policies — including just 90 in the area of highest flood risk. In neighboring Moorhead, a city of 30,000, that number is a mere 145.

In fact, only 4,558 homeowners in the entire state of North Dakota and fewer than 9,000 in Minnesota carried flood insurance as of January, the most recent figures available.

FEMA and state officials tried to get the message out about flood insurance after the devastating 1997 Red River flood, which submerged Grand Forks, N.D., and caused an estimated $4.1 billion in damage. Only 743 homeowners in Grand Forks now carry flood insurance.

"Memories are short, and people don't remember the 1997 flood," said Butch Kinerney, spokesman for the National Flood Insurance Program, managed by FEMA. "You see it time and time again: People forget the past."


Photo of Grand Forks floodwall construction from the NY Times article.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fargo flooding, an ominous forecast, and a long history.

From a NWS flood statement on Friday:

RECORD FLOWS UPSTREAM OF FARGO HAVE PRODUCED UNPRECEDENTED CONDITIONS ON THE RED RIVER. GIVEN THESE FACTORS...THE RIVER IS EXPECTED TO BEHAVE IN WAYS NEVER PREVIOUSLY OBSERVED.
For those of us watching floodplain policy and climate change, these words are especially poignant. It seems the peak was not as high as forecasters thought it might be--these things are tough to predict when there is a lot of ice and snow involved.

Fargo has a long history of flooding, and North Dakota State University has a comprehensive collection of data here. The USGS has a collection of photos from the 1897 flood here.

Minnesota Public Radio has a collection of current news and links here. Reminds me of the sort of organized coverage an expected annual sports event would get.

Photo from the MPR site.

The Rain Table.

The Rain Table is an incredible visualization tool.

Much of my early training was in forest hydrology, and as a visual thinker I've always craved dynamic representations of rainfall and runoff on a watershed scale.

Here you have it. I'll just quote the EVL website:
Rain Table is an interactive museum exhibit developed by the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Department of Geology at the University of Minnesota, and the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Rain Table lets museum goers interact with two-dimensional maps of the Earth on a large high-resolution digital table, select locations of rainfall, and then watch as the rain flows down mountains and across fields, cuts channels through slopes and plains, and floods streams and rivers.

Participants position electronic pucks over areas to indicate the location, or locations, of rainfall, as several people can cooperatively interact with the system at once. The pucks' coordinates are input to a mathematical rain runoff simulation model, previously only available to research scientists, which generates a real-time visualization of the rainfalls, the development of channelized streams of water, and the effect of these streams as they merge with one another and flow into lakes and rivers and oceans.

Rain Table technology consists of a 7-by-3-foot, 24-Megapixel display table, built using six Dell LCD 2560x1600 displays, driven by a cluster of 6 computers. Six infrared cameras, mounted overhead, determine the location of the pucks on the table.

The purpose of the exhibit is to educate the general public about rainfall. It demonstrates how rain in one place can cause flash floods elsewhere, or how the distribution and concentration of pollutants, such as oil refinery wastewater or lawn chemicals, affect water supplies.

Direct any questions to Dmitri Svistula (dmitr@evl.uic.edu) or caverngroup@uic.edu.


Photo from EVL's Rain Table gallery.

Update: From one of the developers, more info, and a movie.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Yet more striking fluid/biomechanics.


Bat in wind tunnel from Carl Zimmer on Vimeo.

I'm posting this because it's amazing (and beautiful), shows fluid behavior, and to remind me, next time I want to whine about the challenges of our video work, that things could be much worse. I can't imagine how much work went into these high-speed videos of bats in flight.

And I really like bats.

The videos are collected and described here. They were created by two Brown University biologists, Dan Riskin and Sharon Swartz.

Thanks to Pharyngula for this find.

Update: More video at Sharon Swartz's site.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Some very green monkeys.

Here Stephanie (our new business manager), Cara, and Jesse hear, see, and speak no over-packaging evil.

After lots of work, mostly on Jesse's part, we've refined the Em2's shipping configuration. We're very proud of the minimal packaging--other than the reusable pallets, there are only a few pounds of packaging material, and all of that is recyclable.

And this design allows those without a loading dock to simply cut four straps and easily unload the model by hand, leaving the pallets with the driver, who's happy to reuse them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More beautiful fluid mechanics photography.


Bathtub IV from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.
OK, this one is a stretch, but it's amazing. Talented videographer Keith Loutit combines tilt-shift and time lapse to produce mind-altering videos. The tilt-shift part, which I understand from studying view cameras years ago, puts parts of the scene out of focus, fooling us into thinking we're seeing a very small, constructed, landscape. But these views are "100% real" according to Keith, and I believe him. Visit his site for a description of this one, which was made with the cooperation of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.

There are lots of time-lapsed waves and boats, and of course the helicopter, so there's your fluid mechanics and relevance to this blog if you need it.

And here you can see a bulldozer falling into a river. Looks real to me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

We're on Flickr now.




Things are moving fast at LRRD, and we're always looking for ways to convey our work online. Last week I started a Flickr gallery. It's very easy to post, organize, and caption high quality photos there--we like it very much.

I understand some government workers are blocked from Flickr. If you are, please let us know.

Some especially beautiful fluid mechanics.



Last week I ran across a video of dolphins creating "bubble rings." It's both beautiful and fascinating on many levels, not the least of which is the behavior and intelligence of these animals. It appears they create a vortex ring and inject air into it. They then manipulate the ring, pushing it around and even biting off smaller rings. You have to see it to believe it.

Here's a scholarly work on cognition and this behavior, and some analysis of the mechanics (and a lot of cool images) from deepocean.net. I've not reviewed this (and am not qualified to) but it looks interesting.

And I've been meaning to post this huge gallery and collection of links and images from the Fluid Mechanics Group at the National University of Singapore. Plenty on vortex rings there.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Emriver Em2 video completed.


Over the weekend I finished a three-minute video overview of our Emriver Em2. I spent a lot of time on this; we built special lights and rearranged the workshop to shoot it. I've never actually shot a serious movie like this with two-camera shots, a script, and live actors. Everybody at LRRD did a great job, and Rachel Frank and Checo Colón-Gaud were great actors. We couldn't have found better.

My wife Katherine Poulos did the narration. She's got a wonderful voice and great talent for this. It took us a few takes, especially with dogs barking, planes flying over, and other interruptions that plague the makeshift sound studio.

Here's the high-resolution, 32mb version on our site, and a 12mb low-res version. I've also posted it on YouTube here.

Here I am shooting Rachel and the Emriver's box, with Cara helping with the shot list and other things.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Emriver Em2 video shoot success.


We've realized for a while now that we needed a short video showing the components of the Emriver Em2 model and how they go together. Even people who see the model in use have trouble believing how easy it is to store and transport--that part of the design isn't apparent. So (after a lot of planning) we spent most of Sunday shooting in the shop. My two models were Checo Colón-Gaud, who recently finished a PhD in Zoology at SIUC, and Rachel Frank, who's in Theater (and also the world's best, most cheerful server at the Longbranch Coffee House). These two did a wonderful job, and though the shoot was grueling, lasted through nearly four hours with energy and cheer. Thanks, Checo and Rachel.

This was the first shoot like this I've done, with a script and two cameras (both operated by me). Not an easy thing to get right, but we made only a couple of minor errors.

I'm editing now and hope to have the movie posted in a week or so. Here Checo and Rachel pose with Stephanie Rhodes, our new business manager, who, though she wasn't feeling to hot, came in on a Sunday to help with the shoot.