Associate Professor Christina Hill of the Department of World Languages and Cultures and Cristina Poleacovschi, Associate Professor in Civil, Construction & Environmental Engineering, have been awarded a $1.2 million dollar grant by the National Science Foundation.
Climate change poses a major threat to the water security of Alaska Native communities. While local, state, and federal agencies have spent considerable funds to design and build piped water supply systems in rural Alaskan communities, many of these systems were built on permafrost soils assuming the ground would remain frozen year-round. Now, rising temperatures are causing arctic permafrost to thaw, which in turn is causing underground water supply pipes to burst and leak. These pipe bursts have led to persistent water supply outages, to the extent that nearly 80% of interviewed Alaska Native residents cite pipe leaks or breaks as one of the most pressing issues affecting their quality of life. New sensing technologies have the potential to mitigate water supply problems by enabling operators to pre-emptively detect leaks and prevent outages. At the same time, water system designs need to be mindful of the cultural meaning assigned to these systems and fully include Alaska Native communities in their co-design. Integrating new technologies requires a coordinated approach that recognizes traditional and local knowledge and empowers Alaska Native communities in the infrastructure design process. Towards this goal, this project bridges the environmental, technological, and social challenges that Alaska Native communities face with regard to their water systems. The project team will work closely with Alaska Native communities to co-develop new climate-resilient water infrastructure through knowledge co-production, the deployment of novel real-time water supply monitoring systems, and characterization of Arctic soil conditions and their effects on pipeline structural integrity.