At Fuse topping out ceremony, student researcher uses satellites to better predict storm surges


Satellites aren’t just for pinging cell service across the globe: They’re also a critical resource for observing areas as large as Earth’s oceans. 

Soelem Aafnan Bhuiyan, PhD student in civil engineering at George Mason University, is working with College of Engineering and Computing professor Viviana Maggioni to improve coastal water level predictions with satellite observations in the hopes of better predicting storm surges amidst rising sea levels. We spoke with Bhuiyan about his research and his personal connection to the impacts of rising sea levels. 

Tell us about your project.

I am working on improving the water level estimation in coastal areas. Nearly 40% of the world's population lives within 10 miles of coastlines. Coastal regions worldwide are frequently impacted by hurricane storm surges, and the risk increases in the face of climate crisis. Thus, accurately predicting coastal water levels is of utmost importance. I am developing a novel approach that rectifies numerical model-generated water levels with satellite observations dynamically, producing superior coastal water level estimation. This innovation will augment our capability to produce robust coastal storm surge and flood warning schemes globally.

What inspired you to select this topic?

I come from Bangladesh, which lies at the forefront of the climate crisis. Each year, Bangladesh battles natural hazards like hurricanes and coastal floods, which are projected to exacerbate the climate risks for the low-lying Bengal delta. With the successful implementation of my research on improved coastal flood forecasting, the coastal communities, such as the ones in Bangladesh, will benefit enormously from a more robust disaster preparedness program.

What is one thing you’ve learned while working on this project that will be useful to you in the field?

If there is one thing that my PhD training has taught me so far, it is perseverance. A PhD project is often similar to a puzzle, and as PhD students, we often have to spend hours, days or even months on trying to solve just a single piece of that puzzle. In those situations, dedication and perseverance are the keys. I believe these traits will be beneficial to me in the long run in my professional career too.

How would dedicated research space, such as the plans for Fuse at Mason Square, help sustain your project?

The impact of having a dedicated research space like Fuse at Mason Square would be significant. Such spaces would provide access to state-of-the-art research equipment and facilities that may otherwise be hard to come by elsewhere. Being in a dedicated research facility would put me in proximity to other research groups from similar/different research fields. This would foster the chances of collaboration between the groups, providing the opportunities to trade innovative ideas and share resources, ultimately increasing the quality of my project. The interdisciplinary nature of such facilities also attracts perspectives and expertise from different fields, helping the holistic characteristics and overall sustainability of my project. Additionally, a dedicated space like this means more networking opportunities among peers and greater access to educational and skill-building opportunities, immensely beneficial for personal growth and career development.