Student Spotlight: Jeffrey Sadler named MATS UTC Student of the Year

SadlerJeffrey Sadler’s academic path has been steady. Whether collaborating on research projects related to coastal flooding or mentoring students on projects related to sea level rise, he has remained focused on protecting coastal communities and infrastructure from adverse environmental conditions related to climate change.

Now undertaking his PhD as a member of the Goodall research group at the University of Virginia (UVA), Sadler is well positioned to pursue this interest. Jonathan Goodall, PhD, an associate professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at UVA, teaches and studies environmental and water resources engineering, with research interests in urban hydrology, resilient infrastructure systems and stormwater management, among others.

With Goodall’s guidance, Sadler has contributed to a number of research studies. Most recently, he and several other students worked with Goodall and Venkataramana Sridhar, PhD, assistant professor at Virginia Tech, on a MATS UTC- funded project titled, Impact of Climate Change and Sea Level Rise on Stormwater Design and Reoccurring Flooding Problems in the Hampton Roads Region.  The team conducted three related studies on the impact of sea level rise on transportation infrastructure in coastal Virginia.

In the first study, the UVA group used geospatial data and geographic information system data processing to estimate roadways vulnerable to flooding in various sea level rise scenarios. They found by 2100 with intermediate sea level rise predictions, more than 10% of major roadways will be inundated at high tide.

The second UVA study examined how rainfall variability impacts the ability to accurately measure rainfall using gauging stations. Experiments were conducted to understand how local rainfall observations for problem-area watersheds around Virginia Beach impacted the ability to accurately predict rainfall on the watershed. The findings showed having a gauge within 1km of the watershed greatly reduced the precipitation prediction error, especially for a 15-minute time step. These results suggest the need for a dense rainfall monitoring network for coastal cities where flooding risks are increasing due to sea level rise and climate change.

Sadler’s PhD research focuses on using machine learning to predict flooding in urban coastal environments and prioritizing resource spending for maintaining roadway infrastructure. Given the multiple factors and complex interactions influencing coastal flooding, such as precipitation, groundwater, tides and sea level rise, machine learning approaches are good candidates for prediction of flooding over traditional, physically-based models. His thesis represents some of the first research to use machine learning approaches to predict urban coastal flooding. He expects to graduate in 2018.

In addition to his research, Sadler considers mentorship of other students one of his top academic accomplishments. He mentored a group of undergraduate students studying sea level rise and roadway flooding as part of either their senior capstone project or the MATS UTC undergraduate summer research internship program. The work resulted in a submission to the Journal of Infrastructure Systems.

MATS UTC has taken notice of his many consortium-related activities, recently naming Sadler ‘2016 Student of the Year’. His contributions to the MATS UTC-funded project on the impact of sea level rise on flooding in Hampton Roads, as well as his leadership with other students, warranted the honor.

His research advisor concurs. “I am thrilled to have Jeff as a PhD student,” stated Goodall. “He is not only an excellent student, but is quickly becoming an excellent researcher as well. He has already taken on a leadership role in his research to better understand and predict flooding impacts to roadways in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, and I expect big things from him as he continues to advance in his career.”

Sadler completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Brigham Young University where he majored in hydrology. Upon graduating from UVA, he plans to continue to study climate effects on coastal communities and infrastructure. “If we can understand the coastal environment and its impact on infrastructure, then we can take steps to manage water resources and improve the quality of life for people.”

Sadler may be contacted at jms3fb@virginia.edu.