Gund, UVM launch six flood research projects

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Roads and fields throughout Vermont were flooded after historical rainfall poured down throughout much of July, 2023. Images like these were taken by Jarlath O’Neill-Dunne, research associate and director of UVM's Spatial Analysis Lab, to better understand the flood's impact. This UVM Spatial Analysis Lab drone photo was taken outside Middlebury, near 3 Mile Bridge, on July 17, 2023.

by Joshua Defibaugh, UVM In a time of unprecedented rainfall and flooding throughout Vermont in July 2023, the University of Vermont’s (UVM) Office of Research in collaboration the Gund Institute for Environment issued a call for proposals for rapid deployment of UVM researchers to engage in flood-related research activities that would contribute to understanding the impacts of the flooding crisis across the state and assist in response and recovery.

The call was answered and UVM has announced that six awards were given to researchers in the fields of geophysical processes, agriculture, public health, and community resilience to evaluate and recover from this year’s catastrophic flooding as well as planning for future climate events.

“Catastrophic events like this year’s flooding have wide-reaching effects, and the key to building resilience is to get out there quickly and learn as much as we can, so we can put that knowledge to use for the future,” said Sara Helms-Cahan, UVM’s Associate Vice President for Research. “We are really pleased to be able to fund UVM researchers from across campus who are leveraging their expertise in partnership with the community to document impacts, promote recovery, and inform public policy.”

UVM Rapid Flood Research Grant Recipients

  • Eric Roy, associate professor in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, was awarded a grant to study water storage, sediment deposition, and phosphorus capture by restored riparian wetlands during the historic 2023 Vermont flood.
  • Kristen Underwood, research assistant professor in the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences’ (CEMS) Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rebecca Diehl, research assistant professor in the College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Geography and Geosciences — with Michele Braun, executive director of Friends of the Winooski River — were awarded a grant to study and evaluate the channel and floodplain impacts from sudden and uncontrolled removal of the Clark Sawmill Dam during July 2023 flooding on the Winooski river in Lower Cabot.
  • Christopher Callahan and Vernon Grubinger, Extension professors — with the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, and the US Food and Drug Administration — were awarded a grant to research enhancing productive land activities in the near term. 
  • Jarlath O’Neill-Dunne, research associate and director of Spatial Analysis Lab (SAL) and Paige Brochu, a PhD candidate in SAL — with the Vermont Department of Health — were awarded a grant to identify the risk of drinking water contamination using geospatial analyses due to the July 2023 flood to prepare for future events. 
  • Sarah Gradjura, postdoctoral researcher, and Dana Rowangould, associate professor in CEMS' Transportation Research Center were awarded a grant to study rural mobility, housing, and infrastructure for flood resilience and equitable recovery in Vermont. 
  • Kelly Hamshaw and Daniel Baker, senior lecturer and associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences department of Community Development and Applied Economics — with the Mobile Home Program, Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity — were awarded a grant to study the urgent needs in Vermont manufactured housing communities impacted by July 2023 flooding. 

“As Vermont gets wetter and warmer due to climate change, these rapid research projects will explore innovative ways to protect Vermonters from destructive storms and flooding,” said Taylor Ricketts, Director, Gund Institute for Environment, a co-sponsor of the grants. “We are proud to support these projects, which hold great potential to advance flood preparedness in the Green Mountain State and beyond.”

To catalyze solutions for people and nature, the Gund Institute for Environment has issued over $1.3 million in startup funds, supporting 24 innovative projects and over 100 UVM scholars. These projects have generated over $23M in external funds and inspired real world action. In 2020, early in the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Gund Institute and the OVPR launched a COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund to catalyze UVM research on the environmental and social dimensions of the global crisis. A total of $50K in seed grants was awarded to six UVM teams. These projects have made important contributions to our understanding of the pandemic’s impacts and generated over $3.6M in external funding—a 73-to-1-return-on-investment.

The 2023 Vermont Flood Event Rapid-Response Grant Awards were given to proposals that involved a community partner to enable immediate engagement. Another grant, the Office of Research’s Early Extra Promotion of Research & Scholarly Success (EXPRESS) Grant proposals are due October 16, 2023.