New mathematical model reduces time to simulate natural disasters

May 19, 2014 by Marcene Robinson

( —The amount of time it takes to mathematically simulate the path of ash from a volcano eruption or a satellite collision can take hours, even days. However a new method, the Conjugate Unscented Transform (CUT), has shortened the process to minutes.

The approach was created by Nagavenkat Adurthi, a University at Buffalo mechanical engineering doctoral candidate, while completing a homework assignment. Finding taught methods inaccurate or time-consuming, Adurthi designed his own.

"I thought: Why do we have to put points on these axes? Why don't we put them somewhere else? So, I introduced new axes," says Adurthi. "I reduced the number of evaluations required to get the same amount of accuracy. Once I got fewer points than the regular methods, I found out CUT's real potential."

Because conditions that lead to natural disasters are often unknown, researchers run multiple simulations using different variables, or points, to more accurately predict events. The uncertainty is overcome by taking an average.

Under the direction of Puneet Singla, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Adurthi tested the new approach against existing methods.

The Monte Carlo method, often used to predict space collisions, requires at least two to three million random points, which take more than a week to simulate. CUT reduced the number of needed points to 745, requiring fewer than 10 minutes.

Adurthi's approach also lowered the required trials of the volcano ash propagation from 6500 simulations over several weeks to 161 simulations over one week.

CUT, detailed in Adurthi's master's thesis, "The Conjugate Unscented Transform: A Method to Evaluate Multidimensional Expectation Integrals," was awarded the Outstanding Master's Thesis Award for 2014 by the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools.

Adurthi also won two best session presentation awards for CUT during the 2013 American Control Conference, has six peer-reviewed conference publications and plans to submit two journal manuscripts on the method.

"Nagavenkat is one of those rare researchers who, with great ease, can tackle and solve with little supervision complex, interdisciplinary problems and produce publications of the highest quality," says Singla. "It is important to mention that the computation of probabilistic hazard map for volcano ash advection would not have been computationally tractable without making use of his work."

CUT can also be applied to sensors, GPS tracking, and tsunami simulation. Adurthi plans to propose the method to NASA scientists as well.

Explore further: Land bulge clue to aviation threat from volcanoes

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Land bulge clue to aviation threat from volcanoes

Jan 12, 2014

Bulging in land that occurs before a volcano erupts points to how much ash will be spewed into the sky, providing a useful early warning for aviation, geologists in Iceland said on Sunday.

Online tool boosts ash cloud forecasts

Aug 16, 2013

A new online tool for predicting the amount of ash pumped into the atmosphere during a volcanic eruption has been made openly available to scientists around the world.

Ash cloud from Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano (w/ video)

Apr 23, 2012

( -- NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, GOES-13, captures visible and infrared images of weather over the eastern U.S. every 15 minutes, and spotted an ash and gas cloud streaming from Mexico's ...

Recommended for you

Local education politics 'far from dead'

1 hour ago

Teach for America, known for recruiting teachers, is also setting its sights on capturing school board seats across the nation. Surprisingly, however, political candidates from the program aren't just pushing ...

First grade reading suffers in segregated schools

1 hour ago

A groundbreaking study from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) has found that African-American students in first grade experience smaller gains in reading when they attend segregated schools—but the ...

Violent aftermath for the warriors at Alken Enge

1 hour ago

Denmark attracted international attention in 2012 when archaeological excavations revealed the bones of an entire army, whose warriors had been thrown into the bogs near the Alken Enge wetlands in East Jutland ...

Why aren't consumers buying remanufactured products?

3 hours ago

Firms looking to increase market share of remanufactured consumer products will have to overcome a big barrier to do so, according to a recent study from the Penn State Smeal College of Business. Findings from faculty members ...

Expecting to teach enhances learning, recall

3 hours ago

People learn better and recall more when given the impression that they will soon have to teach newly acquired material to someone else, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

User comments : 0