(TNS) — University of Oklahoma researchers will participate in a National Science Foundation initiative to build innovative public-private partnerships that address regional challenges with big data analysis.

Called the South Big Data Regional Innovation Hub, the initiative is focused on solving some of the nation’s most pressing research and development challenges — scientific and social matters in five areas: health care, coastal hazards, industrial big data, materials and manufacturing, and habitat planning.

The Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of North Carolina’s Renaissance Computing Institute, which serves Oklahoma and 15 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, will take the lead of the innovation hub.

OU’s efforts in the South Big Data Regional Innovation Hub will be directed by Dr. Le Gruenwald, professor of computer science at the OU Gallogly College of Engineering, and Henry Neeman, assistant vice president for information technology and research strategy advisor.

OU and many collaborators from Southern states face large-scale challenges that require collaboration and big data analysis.

“The collection and analysis of data, ranging from atmospheric observations to patterns in online shopping, are critically important to our everyday lives. OU’s participation in the South Big Data Regional Innovation Hub will lead to new approaches for integrating data from disparate sources and synthesizing it for effective decision-making,” Vice President for Research Kelvin Droegemeier said.

The Southern coasts are highly populated and impacted by climate change and by environmental conditions associated with severe weather storms, such as hurricanes. The study of coastal hazards involves the potential integration of large amounts of regional data and access to computational resources for modeling resilience to storms, storm surge, impacts from sea level rise and human responses to hazardous events.

OU is participating by developing the ADvanced CIRCulation coastal simulation software package, a key application for coastal hazard forecasting — an unstructured mesh shallow water, community-based model. It was used after Hurricane Katrina by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for new flood maps for U.S. coastal areas.

That led the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to use the application in flood studies for nuclear power plant operation following Japan’s Fukushima disaster.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Homeland Security, Corps of Engineers and others use the application for prediction of storm surge and flooding, and the state of Louisiana uses it for coastal restoration.

OU’s Advance CIRCulation team leads a Parallel Computing Center focused on making the application able to process more data faster, to allow longer lead times and more accurate forecasts.

A national leader in weather prediction and weather radar research, OU has complementary capabilities in coastal hazards calculations and big data analysis.

OU’s weather groups have archived more than 750TB of forecast and observational data — the capacity of 30,000 Blu-Ray discs, and the data sets continue to grow. OU’s Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms has led a spring real-time storm forecast experiment for many years as part of an ongoing collaboration with NOAA and other academic researchers.

The impact of tornadoes, high winds, snow, flash floods and other severe weather can be mitigated by timely, accurate prediction. Advanced weather radar, such as Atmospheric Imaging Radar developed at OU’s Radar Innovation Laboratory, provides volumetric radar data sets in seconds, in support of improved prediction, to protect Americans from some of nature’s most dangerous severe weather events.

Marilyn Korhonen, associate director for the Center for Research Program Development and Enrichment, who has supported the research development for the initiative, said the OU team sees it as an exciting opportunity to connect faculty and scientists with some new initiatives that are being facilitated with the project. Rather than fund research outright, the initiative will enable research.

“It’s really different to what we’re used to — there’s funds, and then there’s research connected to it,” Korhonen said. “This is about building community. The question is how we can build community across traditional boundaries and barriers to address those big questions. That’s the purpose of this particular initiative.”

©2015 The Norman Transcript (Norman, Okla.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.