BYU civil engineers present at National Water Center

Two BYU graduate students spent seven weeks this summer in Alabama at the National Water Center Summer Institute. Christian Kesler and Savannah Keane, master’s students of civil and environmental engineering, presented the work they have been doing with the Tethys Platform, under the direction of Jim Nelson, professor of civil engineering at BYU. 

“The people that work at the National Water Center are all very excited about these apps and the Tethys Platform in general," said Kesler. "They like how easy it is to use. Before this app was created, you had to know a lot about computers to view the forecast data.”

Using the Tethys Platform, both students have been working on developing apps to predict streamflow and flooding. At the Summer Institute, Kesler and Keane created apps to display flood maps for counties in Alabama and West Virginia which have recently experienced extreme flooding. The apps are able to show where flooding will occur as well as predict which areas will be impacted, allowing those areas to prepare and prevent extensive damage.

In addition to developing apps, Kesler and Keane also aided others in learning how to create their own water resource apps using the Tethys Platform.

“The students loved it, but beyond that the staff here at the National Water Center and people from all different government agencies were thrilled to have these tools,” Keane said. “We had them come up to us afterwards and thank us for all our work at BYU. Everyone seems pretty thrilled!”

Edward Clark, director of Geo-Intelligence at the NOAA National Weather Service, was impressed with the students’ work and contributions at the Institute.

“Christian and Savannah were really valuable members of the Summer Institute team,” said Clark. “They helped a number of other students come-up-to-speed on working within Tethys. I think their confidence in working with technology and apps in particular allowed others to develop their own confidence in attempting similar high-tech components of their projects.”

The Tethys Platform is a web framework used to develop and host water resource web applications. It enables engineers with limited knowledge about programming to create interactive and user-friendly web applications to find and display data not only about flooding, but also about streamflow, snow coverage and the potential certain areas have for producing hydropower.

“Tethys platform offers a unique platform on which academic partners can interact with the output from the National Water Model,” said Clark. “This provided a mechanism for rapid prototyping of new ideas and techniques as part of the NWC Summer Institute.”

The apps created through the platform are useful not only for engineers but across many different fields. They have the potential to help biologists monitor water levels that might impact eco-systems, scientists track snow patterns in relation to climate change and even recreationists determine which areas to avoid and which to rush to with their kayaks.

The platform does not actually run the model, but it provides the tools to allow data access and visualization to help filter, view and understand the data. It is helping to revolutionize the world of civil and environmental engineering by allowing engineers to create applications to help present their work in a user-friendly and visually appealing way. 

“Tethys is game changer for the sophistication of platforms that can be developed within the academic community, using open-source software and techniques,” Clark said. “It sets the bar very high for cross-platform capabilities.  At the same time, it is representative of the community minded spirit emerging in the water resources sector.”

Tethys is bringing outdated, manually driven water resource tools into the world of web applications. It is transforming the way those involved with the water resource sector are able to conduct and display their work.

“We feel that everyone in the National Water Center can use the potential and capabilities that Tethys provides. These apps have created much more meaning to the National Water Model,” Keane said.

The platform is based on research conducted by BYU and other Utah and Wyoming universities as part of a National Science Foundation grant. With the grant they developed CI-Water, a cyberinfrastructure water modeling collaboration, which led to the creation of the Tethys Platform.

To learn more about the project and platform, visit tethysplatform.org.

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