UK leading $20 million, 5-year NSF collaborative project to build climate resilience in Kentucky

Kentucky has certainly learned over the past four years that our weather is challenging to predict and can have devastating consequences for our citizens. From the violent tornadoes that ravaged Western Kentucky in 2021 to the historic floods that devastated Eastern Kentucky in 2022, weather-related catastrophes have all too often severely impacted communities and hampered economic growth in the Commonwealth.

A new five-year Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII Track-1) award from the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR), “Climate Resilience through Multidisciplinary Big Data Learning, Prediction & Building Response Systems (CLIMBS),” is investing $20 million into advancing Kentucky’s climate resiliency, using a collaborative, statewide approach to bring the best and brightest minds together to tackle this important Kentucky problem.

“We are proud to invest in Kentucky’s future through the CLIMBS project, which aims to enhance climate resilience and sustainability across industries,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “By focusing on science-driven solutions, Kentucky can address climate challenges, protect communities and bolster economic growth for communities across the commonwealth and throughout the region.” 

Kentucky NSF EPSCoR is a statewide program to build research infrastructure and increase national competitiveness in obtaining research funding to tackle the Commonwealth’s most important issues. The University of Kentucky will lead an eight-institution collaboration including University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University, Northern Kentucky University, Morehead State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Murray State University and Thomas More University, that will address three fundamental knowledge gaps in climate-related understanding:

  • CLIMBS will utilize “big data” approaches and monitoring networks to increase knowledge of Kentucky’s atmosphere and hydrosphere, including paleoclimate data from Kentucky’s past, to determine Kentucky-specific climate activity.
  • Researchers will enhance predictions of future climate, water resources and biodiversity through application of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques on extensive environmental datasets to forecast climate events, floods and landslides, enhancing response and preparedness efforts.
  • CLIMBS will establish an enhanced framework for climate mitigation and community-level disaster response. It aims to explore the interconnectedness between infrastructure (such as water, power, traffic and communications), human populations and climate hazards. Additionally, it will develop risk assessment tools and restoration models that prioritize human health, socio-economic vibrancy and the long-term sustainability of communities.

“This new EPSCoR project speaks to everything we believe in at the University of Kentucky,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “Building a collaborative team from across higher education institutions in Kentucky to conduct transformative, meaningful work that will have a real benefit in Kentucky communities. While doing so, CLIMBS seeks to educate and train the workforce of tomorrow who will help us build more climate resilient and healthy Kentucky communities.”

CLIMBS will become self-sustainable after the conclusion of the five-year grant, which is critical to helping the state realize its vision of becoming a leader in climate resiliency and hazard engineering based on predictions specific to the area. Rodney Andrews, program director of Kentucky NSF EPSCoR, understands this quite well, serving as the primary investigator on this Track-1 project, his fourth since becoming Kentucky NSF EPSCoR Program Director in 2011.

Katherine Johnson

Most discussed