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ORNL Recent College Graduate Research Profile: 
Adam Sisco

Student’s research prepares coastal cities for natural disasters


Adam Sisco

As a participant in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Adam Sisco developed a GIS-based risk assessment model for coastal communities.

Geoscience student Adam Sisco cannot overstate the importance of U.S. coastlines. The coastlines host much of the nation’s military and energy infrastructure, large population centers and commercial hubs, such as shipping ports. However, coastal locations are prone to environmental disasters such as storms and flooding.

As a participant in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Sisco, a recent Mississippi State University graduate, conducted research to develop a GIS-based risk assessment model for coastal communities threatened by sea level rise. The model supports the Urban Climate Adaption Tool, a web-based, decision-support tool.

With guidance from his mentor, Olufemi Omitaomu, Ph.D., Sisco computed a numerical risk score by developing a series of indicators. These indicators are derived from geospatial datasets on sea level rise scenarios, coastal population and critical infrastructure assets. Next, he placed the indicators in a geographic information system to identify specific areas of risk.

“As city officials plan adaptation measures, they often lack access to guiding information on the risks embedded within the populations and infrastructure systems they manage,” Sisco said. “Thus, the purpose of my research is to integrate geospatial data to provide decision support at scales useful for urban planning.”

At the end of his term, Sisco expected to be finished with his project and deem it complete. However, he learned that his research generated more questions.

“I realized that having more questions than answers is exactly what drives research forward,” Sisco said. “The curiosity to know more is what makes ORNL thrive as a research and development laboratory.”

Sisco was awarded Best Abstract and Best Poster at the Fall 2016 Poster Session sponsored by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Programs office.

After his participation in the program, Sisco accepted a position as a staff research associate at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. His time at ORNL introduced him to data science and its importance to many areas of scientific research. Eventually, Sisco plans to return to school to obtain a master’s degree and continue to contribute to the field of earth and data science.

“My mentor and other scientists at ORNL are working on very experimental projects to address some of the most complex issues facing society,” Sisco said. “No scientist on the planet yet knows the answers to these questions, and that has given me a new appreciation for science and the fact that answers do not always come easily or timely.”

The SULI program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s, Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) and administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), managed by ORAU.