Local rainfall, roads on USC research agenda

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Local rainfall, roads on USC research agenda


9 July 2012

A revealing analysis of rainfall intensity on the Coast over the past three years and a plan to save millions of dollars on future infrastructure by creating roads that last longer will be among the research outlined at the University of the Sunshine Coast this week.

The University’s 2012 Research Week starts today, Monday 9 July, with highlights including visiting world-class meteorite researcher Professor Phil Bland and the colourful new USC Research Expo.

The research into rainfall and roads will be among almost 50 presentations by USC staff on Tuesday 10 July and Wednesday 11 July.

Dr Helen Fairweather’s talk, ‘Rainfall on the Sunshine Coast: How intense can it get’, and USC Professor of Construction Engineering Dr John Yeaman’s talk, ‘A case for Road Infrastructure Research and Development’, will be part of the Tuesday session from 2.15pm to 4pm.

Dr Fairweather, who is a USC Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow in Environmental Engineering, said although her preliminary findings showed that rainfall events at any one location on the Coast over the past three years may not have exceeded what would be expected for a 1-in-100-year average recurrence interval, comparison with rainfall radar images indicated that this may not be the complete picture.

“The climate change projections released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggest that we can expect more intense rainfall events than in the past,” she said.

“On the Sunshine Coast over the last few years we have certainly experienced our fair share of heavy downpours which have caused some significant flooding events. This research is investigating how intense these events have been compared to what we should expect over varying durations.”

She said she is developing a tool that will demonstrate how much effect the increase in global temperatures has on extreme rainfall events on the Sunshine Coast.

“In my previous role with the Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence we generally expected a four per cent increase in intensity for every degree of global warming, and I am investigating if the local events have already exceeded that.”

Dr Yeaman, the former long-time owner of Sydney-based consultancy Pavement Management Services which operated as far afield as Abu Dhabi, said he was excited about the research possibilities of USC and the Sunshine Coast in relation to his expertise – road pavements.

“The public road network in Queensland comprises 180,500km of mainly sealed flexible pavements,” he said. “The asset value is $130 billion, making it the largest publicly-owned physical infrastructure in the state and the average annual expenditure on it is $3.3 billion.

“Australian pavements are designed for 20 years although many experience a much shorter life cycle,” he said.

“If we can increase that life cycle by 5 per cent – one year – through research and development, we can reduce Queensland’s $3.3 billion annual expenditure by $165 million per year. My presentation will demonstrate how we can create a full-scale testing and research facility at USC.”

Other topics on Tuesday and Wednesday include: Seafood exports, Brisbane River floods, exercise in relation to tobacco smoke, the art of football kicking, Noosa River health, reality TV formats, psychological impacts of the Christchurch earthquake, high school teachers’ perceptions, and expeditions to tropical glaciers and the Arctic.

USC Research Week finishes on Friday 13 July.

— Julie Schomberg

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