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The Mathematics of Mudslides

Thanks to work done by E. Bruce Pitman (University of Buffalo), phenomena like mudslides and avalanches are becoming more calculable.

Pitman studies geophysical mass flows, specifically volcanic avalanches and pyroclastic (hot gas and rock) flows. To model the dynamics of the flows, he makes strategic decisions in consultation with geoscientists about where to make simplifications and then quantifies the errors these simplifications introduce.

Mudslides are complicated, says NSF Division of Mathematical Sciences program director Michael Steuerwalt, and mathematics alone can't demystify them. "But with topographic data, soil data and predictions of precipitation, one could make assessments of where not to build and estimates of risk," he says. "This really is an opportunity for mathematicians coupled not only with statisticians, but also with geographers, geoscientists and engineers."

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Start Date: 
Monday, May 19, 2014

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