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Postdoctoral Fellows - Nirajan Dhakal

nirajanPostdoctoral Fellow
Sustainability Solutions Initiative
University of Maine

What problem/s are you working to solve?
The increase in the frequency of the extreme rainfall has become a threat to the coastal community in recent years. We can take an example of hurricane Sandy that caused a tremendous damage to the infrastructures in the east coast. Most of the (flood controlling) infrastructures such as culverts and dams have been designed based upon the traditional methods (which were developed 50 or even 100 years ago). All of those methods, in predicting the future extreme events, assume the stationary condition of the rainfall. No clear methodologies to understand time-varying changes in weather/climate risk exist at this time. Obviously a lot of materials have already been published and a number of studies are still going on throughout the country about how the climate is changing and how it is impacting our community. The core problem lies in how to translate those findings into the real field or how to make them easily available to decision makers and local designers. My work is to develop an innovative methodology to analyze (time-varying) change in extreme precipitation, and its impacts on community resilience. This work is responsive to research questions identified by the researcher-stakeholder team. Working with the city of Ellsworth in Maine, we have made continued and steady progress towards developing place-based solutions to address the challenges at the intersection of extreme weather-climate and infrastructure, with community resilience as a cornerstone for sustainability.

How could your findings contribute to a more sustainable future in Maine and beyond?
The first thing that I would like to say is that our team is focused on translating the useful climate information to usable form for the community. We have identified the knowledge gaps in current approaches to infrastructure design, and we are working on developing a statistical framework to quantify risk stemming from climate-induced non-stationarities for hydrologic design. It will help us to understand and provide guidance regarding the nature and extent of future impacts on infrastructure. Although we are only working with the city of Ellsworth, our approach and findings can be used as an example for any other coastal city in Maine and beyond where people are trying to confront climate-related vulnerabilities.

Why did you decide to join SSI?
Well I am a civil engineer. More than that I am also a researcher and I want to continue doing research for my career. When I was doing my PhD work, I always used to think that all my countless hours of research work will be published in journal papers and it will be explored by a limited number of people only who are experts in my field. Therefore, I was always looking for some ways so that I can make my research accessible to the community and I can directly interact with the local designers and agencies like DOT. When I read about the work SSI is doing and about the climate adaptation project then I thought it is the great platform for me to develop my research as well as interact with the local community about it. I am glad to say that we have developed a new collaborative partnership with the city of Ellsworth and Maine DOT.

What’s the best part about collaborating on SSI research projects?
The best part is that you get to work with people from different disciplines. It is really interesting to see how the people from different research backgrounds look at the same problem and try to come up with a solution. And I think it’s efficient also. On the other hand, we also get the chance to meet with the community directly. This gives us a better understanding about the type of information we can provide them for a more sustainable future. Talking about my own project, we have found out that science is only one aspect when it comes to climate change adaptation. Each focus group in the community has its own perspective about climate change and problems related to it. Increasing trends in extreme storms and changes in their seasonality is a watershed issue that requires increased communication between neighboring communities and levels of government (i.e., local, state and federal).

Where’s your favorite place in Maine?
I have yet to explore a lot of places in Maine. Acadia National Park and Mount Katahdin are my favorite places so far.

What’s your ultimate Maine experience?
Hiking Mount Katahdin is my ultimate Maine experience. I am still waiting to have some skiing experience in winter.

Mud season survival strategy?
Stay indoors.

What sustains you?
My wonderful family and friends sustain me. So does the passion inside me to learn new things every day and enjoy everything that I do.

Additional information on Nirajan

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