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Hu earns NASA funding award

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Stephen Greenwell
Xie Hu, a 2020 hire as an assistant professor in the Cullen College of Engineering's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and at the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, has received a $375,000 grant from NASA for a research proposal.
Xie Hu, a 2020 hire as an assistant professor in the Cullen College of Engineering's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and at the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, has received a $375,000 grant from NASA for a research proposal.

Xie Hu, a 2020 hire as an assistant professor in the Cullen College of Engineering's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and at the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping, has received a $375,000 grant for her research proposal from NASA.

“Four-Dimensional Landslide Quantification in the Western U.S. Using Remote Sensing Big Data” was one of 38 proposals selected for funding as part of NASA's Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science aimed at new and early career investigators. Hu's proposal was selected from a pool of 238 applicants, which had an acceptance rate of 15.9 percent.

Hu is enthusiastic about the response she's gotten in response to her proposal and research so far.

“It’s fantastic news,” she said of the NASA grant. “It is my first award as the principal investigator and as a junior faculty. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned on landslide hazards during my postdoc research with Dr. Roland Bürgmann at UC Berkeley and my Ph.D. study with Dr. Zhong Lu at SMU. I also appreciate the guidance and suggestions from my colleagues Hyongki Lee and Craig L. Glennie at NCALM, and Yuning Fu and Eric Fielding. I would also like to thank our CEE Department and the Grant Office for their assistance.”

Hu's research focuses on radar and ground motion, as well as geohazards. This specific proposal concerns landslides.

“In the U.S., landslides cause tens of casualties and billions of dollars in damage every year,” she said. “The western U.S. is especially vulnerable due to steep slopes, high precipitation, wildfires and logging, while the convergent plate boundaries exacerbate landslide hazards by prolonged weakening of materials and occasional dynamic shaking. Although national and statewide landslide inventories exist, they are limited in the completeness of landslide locations and attributes due to lack of geomorphological or cartographic evidence.”

Hu would be using her expertise along with radar data and observations to track landslides, even slowly occurring ones that might not be immediately apparent to the human eye.

“Scientific advancements have been achieved in every individual earth science discipline with more accurate observations and more robust models driven by remote sensing big data from ground, air and space, such as topography, precipitation and tectonic loading,” she said. “The key data are from the Synthetic Aperture Radar [SAR]. It can be used to measure ground displacements and to monitor surface changes by repeatedly imaging the Earth remotely … The main objective of my project is to use remote sensing big data to quantitatively define the role and interplay of those environmental forces in the lifespan of slow-moving landslides.”

Going forward, Hu noted that having measurable observations of these slow-moving landslides would be incredibly valuable for areas effected by them, especially the western portion of the United States.

“This is a multidisciplinary research of high societal relevance as it addresses landslide hazard and resilience across population centers, transportation corridors and watersheds in the seismically active Western U.S.,” she said. “A slow-moving landslide system can be recognized as an exceptional natural tectonics laboratory with accessible size and shortened timespans, which can help us understand the geological processes at different spatiotemporal scales.”

Hu is also looking for Ph.D. students and one postdoc to conduct this and other research in her group. For more information, visit her research website.

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