Doctoral Student Places Second in International Climate Risk Competition

Daniel Kahl (pictured third from right) attends the Allianz Climate Risk Award competition in Munich, Germany.

March 20, 2023 - Daniel Kahl, a civil and environmental engineering doctoral student and UCI Flood Lab researcher, placed second in the 2022 Allianz Climate Risk Award competition for his research on flood modeling and risk assessment of Los Angeles. Kahl was one of four applicants worldwide selected to present his work in Munich, Germany, last year, and one of 12 researchers featured in Allianz’s November 2022 compendium “The Era of Resilience, Mitigating Climate Risk.”

The Allianz Group, a worldwide financial services company, offers the award competition to support doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers whose work focuses on climate change and extreme weather. For the 2022 award, the company said it specifically acknowledged research that attempted to mitigate damage from extreme weather phenomena related to climate change by applying innovative technological solutions.

Kahl’s essay and presentation “Growing Flood Risks: How Can We Deliver Equity?” describes his research that uses a new computer modeling simulation program called Parallel Raster Inundation Model (PRIMo) to create a neighborhood-level flood risk assessment for California’s Los Angeles Basin. PRIMo was developed by Brett Sanders, professor of civil and environmental engineering and Kahl’s adviser. According to Kahl, mapping and modeling with PRIMo is more accurate than other large-scale flood models because of its unique ability to utilize fine-resolution data and account for infrastructure, like levees and flood walls, which other models typically leave out. Kahl gathered publicly available spatial information about the area’s infrastructure and created a method for semiautomatically incorporating it into the model.

“It’s really difficult to know where there is flood infrastructure, and even if we do know where it is, it’s difficult to account for in these large models,” explained Kahl. “I developed a method that basically translates that information into our model.”

Building on Kahl’s research, a team of UCI researchers analyzed which populations are more vulnerable to flooding using a Neighborhood Disadvantage Index (NDI) to quantify risks across different demographics and communities. The team decided to focus on this aspect of flooding to account for vulnerable communities that may not recover as quickly from damage. They found that low-income and nonwhite populations are disproportionately affected by flooding, a point Kahl is raising awareness of with this research.

Kahl’s work with Sanders and his colleagues at the UCI Flood Lab has garnered attention from elected officials as well as local and national media.

“Once we identify which areas are at more risk for flooding, that information can be used to direct strategies to reduce flooding,” said Kahl. “We can target communities that would be more vulnerable.”

Kahl received a cash prize (approximately $5,300) from the competition, but he says connecting with other researchers was the most valuable part of the experience for him. He plans to continue working on new research with his colleagues and after graduation to incorporate population demographics into risk assessments for the financial world by connecting the impact of hazards to banking or insurance.

“My experience traveling to Munich, meeting the Allianz natural hazard team – full of amazing scientists – and having the opportunity to present my research to the CEO and leaders from the company and local universities were all valuable things I gained from the experience,” said Kahl.

– Lilith Christopher