October 19, 2018

In the wake of the devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Florence in eastern North Carolina in September, the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory has provided $125,000 in funding for a multi-faceted project focused on water sampling and using a drone to develop three-dimensional maps of flooded areas.

“It was important to act quickly in response to these kinds of flooding events,” said Brad Ives, Collaboratory director, “so that our research can shed light on risks associated with flood waters, inform new strategies for dealing with flooding events in the future, and potentially help prevent future contaminations. We are pleased with the rapid response of this group of researchers, who launched projects at the peak of the flooding, within a week of Florence’s making landfall.”

More than half of the research grants support post-Hurricane Florence water sampling projects.

Dr. Jill Stewart

Dr. Jill Stewart

photo, Dr. Rachel Noble

Dr. Rachel Noble

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jill Stewart, PhD, associate professor, and Rachel Noble, PhD, Mary and Watts Hill Jr. Distinguished Professor, both in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, are involved in the work.

Stewart received a grant to collect water samples that will shed light on the extent of microbial contamination in the flooded areas and provide information about the sources, human and animal, that contribute to the contamination.

Noble, who is based at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, in Morehead City, N.C., will study estuarine and coastal systems contaminated by the hurricane. Using samples collected from Stewart’s lab, Noble’s work will quantify the bacterial pathogens in the water. Researchers also will examine pathogens in shellfish from local harvesting waters to determine when it will be safe to re-open shellfish harvesting grounds.

At Duke, Lee Ferguson, PhD, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Heather Stapleton, PhD, Dan and Bunny Gabel Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics and Sustainable Environmental Management, is working with the N.C. Riverkeeper Alliance and the Environmental Defense Fund to collect water samples and test for the types, sources and levels of emerging pollutants, including pesticides and other industrial chemicals.

At N.C. State University, Detlef Knappe, PhD, professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, working with N.C. Riverkeepers Alliance, utilities and affected residents, is collecting water samples to conduct water-quality testing for a set of chemicals classified as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These include GenX, a potentially toxic industrial compound previously detected in N.C.’s Cape Fear River. This research is in addition to a current PFAS project  funded by a $5 million appropriation from the N.C. General Assembly and led by Jason Surratt, PhD, Gillings School professor of environmental sciences and engineering.

Angela Harris, PhD, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at N.C. State, also will be involved in water sampling in flooded areas.

The North Carolina rivers targeted for sampling include Trent, Haw, Newport, Neuse, Cape Fear, Catawba and Lumber and their tributaries.

The Collaboratory also has provided funding for a project managed by Leila Hashemi Beni, PhD, assistant professor in geomatics at North Carolina A&T State University, in cooperation with the Department of Emergency Management, to utilize a drone to calculate the extent and depth of flooding and identify more resilient land for relocation of municipal, commercial and residential structures in Lumberton and Fair Bluff.

Over the last two years, the Collaboratory has provided nearly $700,000 to research and engagement projects in response to Hurricane Matthew, another recent flooding event that affected the east coast of North Carolina in October 2016. Collaboratory funding has supported community engagement and planning projects in the hard-hit N.C. towns of Lumberton, Kinston, Princeville, Windsor, Fair Bluff and Seven Springs.

About the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory
The Collaboratory was established in summer 2016 by the North Carolina General Assembly for the purposes of facilitating the dissemination of the policy and research expertise of the University of North Carolina for practical use by state and local government. The Collaboratory facilitates and funds research related to the environmental and economic components of the management of the natural resources within North Carolina and of new technologies for habitat, environmental and water quality improvement. To date, the Collaboratory has brought in almost $13 million in research dollars to the UNC System. More information is available at collaboratory.unc.edu.


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