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20-19. Advanced scientific computing to improve assessment of post-fire debris-flow hazards


Closing Date: January 6, 2022

This Research Opportunity will be filled depending on the availability of funds. All application materials must be submitted through USAJobs by 11:59 pm, US Eastern Standard Time, on the closing date.



The USGS conducts debris-flow hazard assessments for recent burn areas across the western U.S.1 The hazard assessments consist of maps identifying the likelihood and potential volume of debris flows throughout the burn area and estimates of the rainfall thresholds required to trigger the flows. The maps are used by federal, state, and local agencies to evaluate risk and develop emergency response and evacuation plans. The rainfall thresholds are used by the National Weather Service to issue watches and warnings for the burn area. Demand for this product has steadily increased since 2014 when the program became operational. Requests for USGS assistance are expected to continue to grow as wildfires increase in size and severity, development continues in vulnerable areas, and precipitation intensifies from warming temperatures.

The code anchoring the operational program was developed by research scientists with expertise in geologic hazards but limited training in scientific computing. Despite its success, the code needs to be modernized to (1) meet the growing demand for the product, (2) improve efficiency in handling computationally intensive mega fires (> 100,000 acres), (3) adhere to fundamental science practices for documentation and availability, and (4) add new products to address stakeholder needs. Potential new products include maps of debris-flow inundation, scenario-based pre-fire hazard assessments for advance planning, and annual updates to assessments that reflect the change in hazard during 2-10 years of post-fire recovery.

We seek a Mendenhall fellow to use advances in scientific computing to help the USGS and its partners better identify debris-flow risks after wildfires. The project involves a redesign of the current operational system for rapid delivery and display of debris-flow hazard assessments using best practices in scientific computing as well as research to advance the science underlying debris-flow hazard assessment (probability, size, inundation, pre-fire hazard, or evolving hazard during post-fire recovery). The proposed study will expand current capabilities and enhance models for assessment of potential debris-flow impacts after wildfire. It involves research to integrate computer science, geology, geomorphology, and social science to produce products serving a range of stakeholders. Stakeholders include large agencies who want high-resolution geo-spatial data for risk assessment and planning, and the public who need an easy-to-understand depiction of the hazard. Emerging platforms for cloud computing and display of geo-spatial information may be considered.

The postdoctoral fellow will be mentored by both research and development teams at the USGS Geologic Hazards Science Center. The fellow will be embedded with the HazDev team who have created some of the most visible products in the Survey. They will provide direction on available computing resources and web infrastructure, as well as exposure to other cutting-edge projects under development. Landslide researchers at GHSC will provide the fellow with education and guidance on the physical science behind landslide hazard assessment. Additionally, the project will involve high levels of engagement with stakeholders and end users, including the National Weather Service, U.S. Forest Service, CAL FIRE, and state geological surveys.

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisors early in the application process to discuss project ideas. 



Proposed Duty Station: Golden, Colorado

Areas of PhD: Geography, geology, geophysics, hydrology, computer science, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet the qualifications for one of the following: Research Computer Scientist, Research Geographer, Research Geologist, Research Geophysicist, Research Hydrologist, Research Physical Scientist.

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)

Human Resources Office Contact:  Megan Agy, 303-236-9584,