Flood Center researcher awarded artificial intelligence grant from Microsoft Now,Published on: December 11th, 2017

Demir Wins Microsoft’s ‘AI for Earth’ Grant

Ibrahim Demir of the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) at the University of Iowa (UI) has been awarded a grant from Microsoft as part of its “AI for Earth” program. Dr. Demir is an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering who also leads the Hydroinformatics Lab at the University of Iowa. He will use the award to develop “Flood AI,” an artificial intelligence system that serves as a virtual flood expert (similar to Siri). Flood AI is accessible through many smart devices, including smartphones, chat applications such as Skype, smart home devices, and more. Users can ask Flood AI any flood or weather related question and get a quick answer.

It’s like talking to a friend who happens to be a flood expert, Demir says.

AI for Earth is a Microsoft program aimed at empowering people and organizations to solve global environmental challenges by increasing access to AI tools and educational opportunities, while accelerating innovation. Via the Azure for Research AI for Earth award program, Microsoft provides selected researchers and organizations access to its cloud and AI computing resources to accelerate, improve, and expand work on climate change, agriculture, biodiversity, and/or water challenges.

Demir is among the first recipients of AI for Earth, which launched in July 2017 after a competitive and selective grant process. Microsoft awarded the grants in recognition of the potential of the work and power of AI to accelerate progress.

“Ibrahim’s work is part of the foundation of the Iowa Flood Center’s service to Iowans,” says IFC Director Witold Krajewski. “He is the chief architect of the Iowa Flood Information System, which puts the IFC’s innovative flood-related tools and information in the hands of all Iowans.”

The Iowa Flood Center is based at IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, a UI research institute focused on fluids engineering. IIHR Interim Director Gabriele Villarini says Demir’s work is on the cutting edge of hydroinformatics — the art and science of providing data and information directly to users through online systems. “Ibrahim continues to break new ground,” Villarini says. “His work directly serves Iowans by providing the real-time information they need to make informed decisions when flooding occurs.”

When flood events happen, people need information — no matter what the time of day or night. Demir says that Flood AI—available 24 hours a day—will be like talking to a friend who happens to be an expert on flooding. Flood AI will support the Iowa Flood Center’s mission to provide flood-related information and technology that is immediately useful to Iowans.

To date, Microsoft has distributed more than 35 grants to qualifying researchers and organizations around the world. Today, Microsoft announced its intent to put $50 million over five years into the program, enabling grant-making and educational training at a much larger scale.

More information about AI for Earth can be found on the website:

IFC stream sensor used to track flooding on the Poudre River

The Iowa Flood Center’s stream monitoring network is gaining interest across the country.

Through a partnership with Riverside Technology Inc., the Iowa Flood Center received funding and support to deploy a stream stage sensor on the Poudre River in Colorado. The sensor has been deployed as part of a pilot project to improve flood awareness and prediction capabilities.

Read the full story by the Coloradoan, here. ,Published on: October 8th, 2017

New! IFIS Automatic Text Alerts

By Mikael Mulugeta

A new Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) service will change how Iowans receive important flooding alerts.

The automated alert feature, accessible from the front page of IFIS, allows users to receive IFIS alerts via text message, phone call, or social media when sensors record certain flood levels. Users can select an IFIS sensor of interest, define the criteria for an alert, and then choose a corresponding action.

For example, users can select a sensor in Cedar Rapids and set 15 feet as the minimum stage height to trigger an alert; and have IFIS text parents or other family members a customized message alerting them of the flood warning.

IFIS integration with the IFTTT (If This Then That) website, an automated workflow system, makes this feature possible. Users can set up alerts by following instructions on the IFIS page, setting their conditions and corresponding actions, and then logging on to IFTTT through Google or Facebook accounts to complete the sign up. Find instructions on setting up the automated feature, here.

In addition to smartphones, tablets, and desktops, IFIS can also send alerts to smart devices, such as GE home appliances.

Currently, users can only set alerts to exact values, such as 20 feet of flooding or higher. Moving forward, Iowa Flood Center researchers plan to add categorical flood levels, so alerts will activate if sensors detect “major” or “minor” flooding.


Thoughts go out to Harvey flood victims

Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with those impacted by the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Texas National Guard soldier helping with flood rescue.


Iowans remember the 2008 floods that wreaked havoc across our state. Through the chaos, we came together and built back a more resilient Iowa.

Iowa Flood Center experts reflect on the extreme flooding in Texas:

IFC Director Witold Krajewski compares Harvey flooding scenarios to Des Moines. View his interview with ABC Channel 5.

IFC Associate Director Nathan Young compares Iowa’s 2008 flood experience with that of the flooding in Texas. View his interview with KWWL-TV.

IFC Director Witold Krajewski describes the flooding in Texas as it relates to the 2008 catastrophic flood event in Iowa. View his interview with KFXA/KGAN-TV.

IFC climate research expert Gabriele Villarini offers some perspective on the flooding in Houston,Texas in response to Hurricane Harvey. View the interview with KCRG-TV.

IFC reflects on ’08 floods and Texas flooding,Published on: August 29th, 2017

Making a Difference for the River

By Jackie Stolze

According to IIHR’s Dan Ceynar, a dedicated river clean-up volunteer, Project AWARE (A Watershed Awareness River Expedition) is like RAGBRAI on the river – minus the partying.

It must have been an amazing sight—dozens and dozens of canoes floating down the Upper Cedar River. Every now and then, one of the volunteers would yell, “Stop! I see a tire!” Then forward progress would halt; they’d splash out into the water and begin the laborious process of excavating the tire and loading it onto the canoe.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) sponsors this week-long canoe-based river clean-up project every summer in July. Project AWARE moves to a different Iowa river each year, bringing hundreds of volunteers eager to pull out the stuff that shouldn’t be there.

Group photo of IIHR and IFC students and staff who participated in Project AWARE.

This year, IIHR and the Iowa Flood Center (longtime Project AWARE co-sponsors) sent more than a dozen staff and students to Northeast Iowa to join in the clean-up for one day. Many were first-timers; some had never canoed before. Despite blistering heat and humidity earlier in the week, the IIHR crew was blessed with a beautiful Iowa summer day. The water was remarkably clear and fairly shallow most of the time—very inviting for anyone who wanted to cool off with a quick dip.

It was also incredibly rewarding, says IIHR’s Ashlee Johannes. “The whole day felt magical, and I am so glad to work at IIHR, which fully supports this for its employees.” She and her canoe partner, Breanna Shea, “punched their ticket” by wrestling a tire out of the water—one of 368 tires Project AWARE volunteers removed from the river over the week.

The IDNR organizes and operates the event so smoothly that participants have very little to worry about. “They made the whole experience very fun and stress-free,” says Shea.

Toward the end of the 12-mile paddling trip, the volunteers came across a decades-old garbage dump that included farm machinery, tractor tires, pots and pans, and more — some of it massive and encased in tons of mud. Canoes clustered around the dump and volunteers jumped out into the water, which was hiding barbed wire and other sharp rusty metal garbage. IGS Geologist Ryan Clark says he and his canoe partner pulled out a pile of metal that was most likely an old corn picker.

“The whole side of the river bank was covered with trash,” says Blake Rupe. One by one, the canoers wrestled the junk that could be moved free and loaded it into the canoes. Sometimes it took two canoes tied together to accommodate the larger trash, such as a gigantic tractor tire. Ceynar cut flaps in the tire so he, Clark, and others could scoop out hundreds of pounds of mud before loading the tire onto the double canoe, which he calls a “canoe-maran.”

“The best feeling was getting out of the canoe and watching the volunteers empty out our trash,” says Rupe. “It didn’t feel like much work, but we made a huge difference.”

They really did make a difference, according to statistics gathered by the IDNR: 469 volunteers (ranging in age from 2 to 77) removed 28 tons of trash over the course of the week, including 14.9 tons of scrap metal and 2.5 tons of recyclables.

Rupe says she’s already looking forward to next year. “It really felt like you were making a difference,” she says. Ceynar, Clark, and many others will likely be there too. “I’m not stopping anytime soon!” Clark says. He likes “working hard, getting wet and muddy with friends and strangers, and then feeling the sense of accomplishment when the week is done.”