Sunday, June 12, 2011

Research topics for my next 20 years

These are the research topics I posted on the call for the doctoral school of Trento (but I update regularly this post -last update is dec 2014). Who wants to know what I did (the basis to know what I will do) can find my papers and my past research topics  here.
I try to contribute to hydrology theoretical development, build tools, and apply them to some case studies (others make mainly experiments or field work: and I appreciate a lot  their work. But I will never become what I am not: if you want to deal with experiments and field work, you possibly waste your time with me). So students can get the best from me if they have attitudes that get along with my inclinations. Cause of  personal attitudes, programming skills, or the will to pursue them,  are necessary to work with me. I use  C/C++, R, and Java, and I made some posts to help people to become a little more familiar to some of these tools (R here, and Java here). Other good tools exist: but do not blame me if I do not use Fortran or Python. I did this choice long time ago and I am still convinced it was not wrong.
I produce models, free models, and  it is intended that all the tangible work in programming and tools of anyone working with me  must be free software.

Hillslope hydrology, landslide and debris flow triggering, and erosion thresholds

The goal of this research line is to develop and assess models of shallow terrain instabilities through mathematical and numerical modeling, and the validation of models by means of conceptual and field experiments. These last will be prepared jointly with other institutions, in particular we have an ongoing collaboration with Bologna University for some basins in Val di Fassa, where several data were collected, USGS (Jonathan Godt) and School of Mines (Ning Lu). To get an idea of what I am talking about, you can give a look at this post.

The basis of the research is the use of GEOtop 2.0 and GEotop-SF and their improvements. With regards to hillslope hydrology the issues right now seem to have a reasonable model (or mapping) of the soil depth, a reasonable way to represent it within the constraints of a grid, and the characterization, at the grid cell size, of the relevant hydrological parameters (for which we have some hints deriving from soil scientists).

Besides covering hillslope hydrology issues, this research is intended to move from the simple assessment of triggering through the infinite slope stability model to model of propagation and self-organization  of the stresses within hillslopes, and implementing Jonathan's and Ning's new theories.

The candidate needs also to develop tools and techniques for the assessment of the boundary and initial conditions necessary to drive the models and perform innovative statistical analysis on the spatio-temporal patterns produced by the models.

My past research on this topic can be found here.

Distributed Modelling of the Hydrological Cycle at large scales, hydrological predictability and data assimilation

This regards mainly the development of the  JGrass-NewAGE for the complete closure of the hydrological budgets, in medium to large scale modelling. This requires the implementation and testing of new physical-statistical model of the various terms of the hydrological cycle, and their application to case studies at the scale of hundreds to thousands of square kilometers. At the  moment the model has a first implementation of all the processes that is going to be thoroughly  tested, and the main interest in this research is to go beyond the simple forecasting of hydrological quantities (in space-time) to achieve  the estimation of error bounds in the predictions with the application of appropriate calibration methods, and data assimilation procedures.  The doctoral work is intended to achieve also the application of models and tools to real cases (as for instance those provided by the DMIP2 project).

My past research and further insight on the topic can be found here.

Distributed Modelling of the Cryosphere

This study involves the modelling and forecasting of the evolution of the snow cover working with the model GEOtop. Previous Ph.D researchers implemented a one dimensional energy budget of both the snowpack and freezing soil. They also posed the bases for further theoretical and numerical improvements of the model, to a 3D version, and eventually including also different constitutive relations, which could be pursued in this research.
The present proposal is especially dedicated to include (or embed) GEOtop modelling with a data assimilation system dedicated to real-time forecasting of the snow cover, depth, and status. The Ph.D. work could be oriented to assimilate either ground data than remote sensing data.

The work will be made in coordination with Mountain-eering S.r.l, a spin-off of the University of Trento, and Stephan Gruber of University of Carleton (CA). 

Starting point for this work is, at the moment, Matteo Dall'Amico Ph.D. thesis and the paper Dall'Amico et al., 2011, which I consider one of my milestones.

Information about my research on Cryospheric processes is here.

Theoretical and Numerical studies about the non equilibrium thermodynamics applied to Hydrology

Hydrology is a thermodynamical science. Each of its fluxes is waiting for a proper assessment which ties together non-equilibrium thermodynamics, and sound fluid dynamics. Little steps in this direction were already made in studying the interaction and the phase change in frozen ground, but remaining essentially in the framework of the classical quasi-equilibrium thermodynamics. Consistent steps can be made actually for most of the processes, including evaporation and transpiration,  flow in soil and groundwater, and freezing soils, building upon rational thermodynamics of irreversible processes, and the mesoscopic thermodynamics.  The theoretical work, if possible, should be completed by appropriate numerical work. It is intended that all the tangible work in programming and tools produced as free software, and using free software.

Implementation of new methods for integrating Navier-Stokes (NS) equation in rugged terrain

Having a nice and suitably implemented method of integration of NS equations is seen as the natural complements to what done so far within GEOtop.  Evapotranspiration, snow deposition, the simulation of soil temperature, all require that the interactions with the low atmosphere must be well resolved. The only way I see for doing this is adding a module that solves for turbulence. This work will be pursued in conjunction with Dino Zardi and Michael Dumbser, two outstanding colleagues of my own Department, and Michi Lehning of SLF in Davos and Ecole Politechnique of Lausanne.

There are no previous results on this topic, however, some preliminary work was made.

HydroInformatics for Hydrology

I want to investigate the theory and practice of hydrological modelling under the light of modern software engineering. It is a fact that increased knowledge about processes has not been paired by an adequate development and quality of the software that deploy it in software and models.
Software quality has been overlooked for long time, and has relevant consequences on the daily activity of scientists (not only hydrologists), especially those who use numerical models to interpret experiments,  do forecasts,  and falsify hypotheses
The bad quality of software also causes serious obstacles to the real understanding and independent  analysis of the algorithms used, and makes overwhelming difficult, if not impossible, the replicability and the reproducibility of any result, thus undermining the foundations of the scientific method. 
Beyond the scopes of traditional software engineering, or  making easier cooperative  programming, enhancing the clarity and efficiency of codes, making easier software maintenance, hydroInformatics 
applied to science, must solve the issue related to documentation of algorithms and to develop “design patterns” specific to science and hydrology,  promote replicable and reproducible research

In practice this means to enhance the system that is already at the base of JGrass-NewAGE and individuate design patterns for solver of differential equations compatible with the OMS infrastructure. Eventually this will bring  to a new version of GEOtop, completely interoperable with JGrass-NewAGE, parallelised, well documented, flexible and full of alternative processes description with the aim to increase the small communities working with these softwares. 

Previous work was summarised in Formetta et al., 2014 but also reading Jgrasstools requirements and David et al., 2013 can be useful.  This research will be pursued in tight connection with Olaf David and the ARS/USDA facility in Fort Collins.

Other info

Some topics were removed from here, to give a more sharp idea of what really I want to do. They pertain to my past research and/or to some past period. But they could come back sometimes. Following your own curiosity, you can find them here.


Motivated students are invited to contact me for a possible Ph.D. carrier or post-doc positions.  As general attitude in my research I believe that research must be reproducible, and I require the same discipline to my Ph.D. students and collaborators.

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