May 23, 2024

Ira Narang with UTRGV and Oden Institute researchers
From left to right: Teresa Feria Arroyo, professor of biology at UTRGV, Ira Narang, computational engineering student and undergraduate research assistant, Katherine Brown, senior research fellow at the Oden Institute.

With hurricane season ramping up, we’re reminded that Texas Engineers in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics (ASE/EM) continue to be at the forefront of developing storm surge models to improve the prediction and monitoring of flooding caused by these storms when they make landfall.

Undergraduate computational engineering student Ira Narang is one such example. Narang was recently recognized for her work on modeling dune erosion and storm surge when she presented at the UTRGV College of Sciences 2024 Annual Research Conference. Narang, who performs undergraduate research in ASE/EM professor Clint Dawson’s Computational Hydraulics Group at the Oden Institute, was awarded Best Undergraduate Oral Presentation in Earth, Environmental, and Marine Sciences for Flood Impact Mitigation: Assessing the Role of Sand Dunes in Protecting Crops in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas.

Tell us about the research you presented at the conference and why it matters.

A zoomed-in flood model map of the Texas Rio Grande Valley with sand dunes removed.
A zoomed-in flood model map of the Texas Rio Grande Valley with sand dunes removed.

Floods in agricultural regions, such as the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, pose a significant threat to crop production. My research project aims to examine the consequences of flooding on crops in this region and evaluate the protective role of sand dunes. The study uses advanced geospatial tools, specifically Quantum Geographic Information System (QGIS) for crop damage assessment and the Advanced Circulation (ADCIRC) model for monitoring flood-induced water level changes.

So far, we have made a significant amount of progress in this project. I have been able to simulate flooding due to Hurricane Dolly with and without the presence of sand dunes. We have noticed differences in water levels in both scenarios and will continue to obtain more detailed results for more accurate conclusions. If the sand dunes do help mitigate flooding, they can be preserved and used as a natural barrier against storms and hurricanes. This will also allow us to reduce the number of man-made barriers as well as reduce pollution.

What do you enjoy most about this work?

The part I enjoy most is being able to look at the finished graphs and files because I can visually see the change I am creating. This is my first time working on a project that could significantly impact the real world in the future. Successfully creating my first flood model was really exciting because it proved that I understood the material and was able to apply it to a specific scenario.

Why did you choose to study computational engineering at UT?

I chose to study computational engineering at UT because it is such a niche field that a lot of other universities don’t offer. The type of work that I am especially interested in is data science with engineering applications and computational engineering is exactly that. I am very happy with my decision and really enjoy all my classes!

What are your plans after graduation?

My plans after graduation are to participate in the integrated COE Master’s program at UT. After completing that, I intend to work in the medical industry. I will continue working to create support for people affected by natural disasters. After studying these events, I will better understand how significant the effects can be on people. My long-term goal is to invent medical devices that will support people affected by these events.

This research is funded through the Empowering Future Agricultural Scientists program.