This award is funded in whole or in part under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (Public Law 117-2).
This Mid-scale Research Infrastructure-1 award will support the design of a National Full-scale Testing Infrastructure for Community Hardening in Extreme Wind, Surge, and Wave Events (NICHE). The United States is experiencing increasing economic, social, and infrastructure development in its coastal areas over recent decades, with 40% of the Nation’s population now calling those areas home. As a result, the Nation is increasingly exposed to natural hazard events, particularly hurricanes along its Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Meanwhile, the country’s interior grapples with downbursts and tornadoes. Extreme windstorm events, such as hurricanes, downbursts, and tornadoes, occur annually and historically have caused community disruption, damaged civil infrastructure, population displacement, and economic losses. The risk to the Nation’s society and assets, especially to civil infrastructure, e.g., residential homes, buildings, bridges, and critical utility systems, is now compounded by increasing hazard exposure and sea level rise due to anthropogenic warming. To help protect the Nation against such extreme event losses, this project will design the mid-scale research infrastructure NICHE, which will provide a unique, national-scale, multi-user facility to experimentally test the impact of extreme winds combined with storm surge and wave actions on different types of civil infrastructure. The envisioned NICHE responds to a pressing national imperative to promote more resilient communities by reducing losses, population displacement, and outmigration due to climate-driven hazards, enabling communities to thrive sustainably and equitably to improve quality of life. This design project is led by Florida International University (FIU), a minority-serving institution, with participation from Colorado State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, Stanford University, University of Florida, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Notre Dame, Wayne State University, and Aerolab LLC. This project will be a component of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI) and will contribute to the NSF role in the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP). Data produced by this project will be archived and made publicly available in the NHERI Data Depot (https://www.DesignSafe-ci.org).
The NICHE facility will enable the wind and coastal engineering research community to address high-priority scientific questions arising from the impact of increasing storm risks on civil infrastructure, particularly from the combination of extreme winds, storm surge, and wave action, through high-fidelity investigations of the three dimensions of the problem space: wind hazards (synoptic and non-synoptic), coastal hazards (waves and storm surge), and the built environment (e.g., from structures to community scale). Historically, these investigations have engaged a trio of methodological approaches: physical experimentation, computational simulations, and field observations. While considerable advances have been made in each, none has been able to adequately capture the complex physics of structures subjected to interacting wind and coastal hazards. Existing experimental facilities can simulate the impacts of coastal and wind hazards on civil infrastructure separately, missing opportunities to advance and validate computational models for coupled hazards. These facilities further lack the physical scale and intensity to authentically recreate the catastrophic failures observed in practice and assess the efficacy of potential mitigation solutions. The NICHE facility will be designed to physically simulate coupled climate-driven hazards at the scales required to faithfully reproduce vulnerabilities in the built environment. To aid in the design of the full-scale NICHE, the project will develop and implement an integrated design testbed (IDT), including construction of a prototype smaller-scale, physical design testbed (PDT), derived from a combination of field observations, computational modeling, and physical experimentation. The PDT will be constructed at FIU, with the potential for the wind-wave PDT component to be constructed at an alternate institution with an existing wave testing infrastructure. The IDT, and the prototype PDT, will inform and incubate the follow-on design of the full-scale NICHE, that will integrate basic and applied research, research translation, student training, and development of a more diverse workforce.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.