Floodplain Model from Virginia Student Wins 2012 Thacher Environmental Research Contest

Arlington,Va.,June 11, 2012—Heavy rains and severe flooding inundatedNorthern Virginialast September, damaging homes, sweeping cars away, and leading authorities to evacuate residents in certain areas. Such severe weather events are somber reminders of the need for accurate floodplain models. These models are important to help communities in flood-prone areas anticipate and prepare for changes in water levels.

Inspired by local events like the recentEastern U.S.floods as well global events like theAttabadLakelandslide inPakistan, Ahnaf Choudhury created and analyzed floodplain models in his winning entry for the 2012 Thacher Environmental Research Contest.

The Thacher Environmental Research Contest is an annual competition held by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES). It challenges students in grades 9-12 to use geospatial tools and data to create innovative research projects.  

“We are so impressed with these students and are confident that this new generation of leaders will truly exploit the benefits of Earth observations,” IGES President Nancy Colleton commented.

Choundhury, from South Riding,Va., input data from the NASA Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) Global Digital Elevation Model into geographic information systems (GIS) to create a detailed unsteady-flow model. Similar models could be prepared to provide information on regions while topographic data is being manually collected, or for remote areas where topographic surveys may not be feasible. He received the competition’s first-place prize of $2,000.

The second-place prize of $1,000 went to 12th grader Ehsan Jafree, fromAshburn,Va., who researched the correlation between land cover and stream health inLoudoun County,Va.Jafree created maps using ArcGIS to determine the impact construction in the last decade has had on stream degradation.

“It was easy to see the general trends between deforestation, construction and stream health ratings,” Jafree said, “but I wanted to determine key percentages of construction and forestation that would correlate with specific stream health values to help developers limit their impact on streams.”

He hopes his results can be used to help environmental planning in the area, and will continue to pursue a career in science as a biochemistry major atOldDominionUniversityin the fall.

Dillen Maurer and Paul David, both 12th graders fromGlendale,Calif., worked together to win third-place and $500 with a study to determine the effect of protecting an isolated area from the introduction of invasive, non-native plants. Maurer and David recorded the coordinates of plant species onSanta Cruz Islandthen mapped their locations usingGISsoftware.

Maurer first became interested in learning more about invasive plants after attending a mountain biking association meeting during which the dangers of invasive plants were discussed. He and David have been friends since meeting in first grade, so it seemed natural for them to collaborate on this scientific research.

Each of the winning students’ teachers were recognized with a $200 gift card from Amazon.com.

About the Contest 

The Thacher Environmental Research Contest (formerly the Thacher Scholars Award) was founded in honor of former IGES board member Peter Thacher, who died in 1999. Peter Thacher was former deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, NASA advisor and, at the time of his death, president of the Earth Council Foundation/U.S. He was a leader in promoting the use of satellite remote sensing.

Geospatial technologies and data have numerous uses in science research, ranging from climate prediction to archaeology. They are used to improve our understanding of the Earth system, including interactions among the atmosphere, biosphere, geosphere and hydrosphere. They are also used to improve the quality of our lives by supporting weather prediction, natural hazards monitoring, agriculture, land-use planning, coastal management, transportation, public health, emergency response and other fields.

For more information on the Thacher Environmental Research Contest, please visit:


About IGES

Located inArlington,Va., IGES was established in 1994 and is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization supported by public and private entities. IGES is a trusted leader in Earth and space science education, communication and outreach, and in fostering national and international cooperation in observing the Earth.