One of Us: Dr. Don Resio

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A Nocatee resident, Dr. Don Resio is a professor of ocean engineering at the University of North Florida (UNF) and the director of the Taylor Engineering Research Institute at UNF’s College of Computing, Engineering and Construction.

Can you please tell us about your background?

My twin brother and I attended the University of Virginia. We both were majoring in physics, but I switched to an earth sciences curriculum in my third year. A new department, Environmental Sciences, was formed, and it included meteorology/climatology and oceanography, which remain my academic inspiration today. Since earning my PhD in 1974, I have led teams of innovators improving technologies, information, tools and theories needed to solve critical coastal problems. In 1982, I married the love of my life, Kathryn, who just retired from instructor of water aerobics at Nocatee. Between us, we have four children — three girls and one boy — and 10 grandchildren — eight boys and two girls.

My professional experience includes 26 years in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (17 as the technical leader of the coastal research program), eight years in the international consulting business, four years as an associate professor of oceanography and meteorology at the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) and eight years at the University of North Florida. During my time within the Corps and consulting, I developed several improved models for quantifying coastal and offshore winds, waves and surges and incorporated these models into statistical systems for estimating coastal and offshore hazards in an integrated method that has been used around the world as the basis for planning and design. My experience in this field has allowed me to serve as a member on National Research Council committees, as a technical advisor to judges in international court cases and as a technical expert on critical national and international court cases.

I became the director of the Taylor Engineering Research Institute at the University of North Florida in 2011, where my passion for innovation is being passed on to the next generation of students from undergraduate through postdoctoral researchers. As an example of this, a team of UNF professors and students recently earned an international patent for UNF, for a green-energy system that can harvest continuous energy from coastal tides.

What inspired your career in marine meteorology?

Many spring and fall weekends and much of my summertime through the latter part of grade school and through high school were spent with my uncle from Sweden, Nils Nilson. He was incredibly knowledgeable about winds, waves and currents within the Chesapeake Bay and mouth of the Potomac River where we fished and crabbed together. He and my father were also both dedicated weather watchers and passed on to me their love of observing nature. They inspired me to always try to be the best person that I can be and ingrained in me the importance of learning about natural processes.

 

What is your proudest achievement in your field?

I recently received the Vincent J. Cardone Lifetime Achievement Award for Marine Meteorology. Vince was my mentor in all things meteorological, beginning during my PhD at UVA and for all years afterwards until he passed away in 2013. This award also recognized my many years of service to the United Nations World Meteorological Organization in countries around the world to reduce damage and loss of life caused by storms and other water hazards, along with my technical contributions to this field. I feel that building the Taylor Engineering Research Institute at UNF has to be considered as tied with this. Over the last eight years, we have gone from an essentially nonexistent program with no Coastal Engineering students, to a constantly growing number of students in our undergraduate track in Coastal Engineering and 18 graduate students (16 MS and 2 PhD, with the latter shared with the University of Florida), almost all of whom receive full tuition coverage and stipends derived from UNF coastal research projects.  

Do you have any insight on the upcoming hurricane season? What should residents in the area expect?

Not really. By now, everyone probably realizes that seasonal forecasts are relatively crude in terms of their accuracies. The reason for this inaccuracy is the evolving time and space scales involved in the creation of both a relatively stable area for tropical storm genesis and a pattern of atmospheric steering currents that bring the hurricanes to the United States. That being said, I will put my guess out there with the rest of them. I think the U.S. will have a higher than normal number of hurricanes (more than six) this year. This is purely due to the locations where the major circulation features seem to be settling into this year.      

What does Northeast Florida need to do to protect itself from future hurricanes and storms?

I think local and state officials have done a good job in developing plans and actions for the 48 hours leading up to and following a hurricane strike in an area. In my opinion, the state should shift some of its budget into improved long-term planning to make coastal areas more resilient to hurricane strikes and to developing technologies that can help areas recover more quickly and fully after storms. For example, new innovative ideas and funding is needed in order to develop expedient methods that can be quickly deployed before a storm hits to help minimize damages. And when the storm has passed, we need faster, expedient bridge replacement capabilities. For example, a team of engineers and scientists that I directed under military funding successfully demonstrated the capability to place a heavy-capacity bridge over a rapidly flowing river within a few hours in a FEMA exercise that took place in Alaska in 2010 (an effort that was awarded the Defense Logistics Agency’s Technology Transition of the Year Award). We also developed a system that could close breaches in dune and levee systems, even while water is flowing through it. I think the key is to not only rely on doing things we already do somewhat better, but to think outside the box to a generation of new ideas.

A good example of the need to improve our capabilities can be found in compound flooding events in Florida. Flooding problems in both Jacksonville and St. Augustine are exacerbated by an inflow of runoff water coming down rivers and streams during hurricanes and creating higher surges than would be created only by winds. Downtown Jacksonville was the victim of this type of flooding in Hurricane Irma, and would not have flooded if the St. Johns River discharge had been much lower. I am presently completing a project to add the capability to include this type of flooding into the National Hurricane Center’s surge forecast system.

What do you enjoy most about living in Nocatee/Ponte Vedra?

It is a wonderful nature area. Kelly Pointe, where I live, is very peaceful with my backyard directly connected to a nature preserve. My wife and I have made good friends since moving to Nocatee. Everyone is so friendly and the proximity to both Jacksonville, St. Augustine, the Beaches and the GTM Preserve, with all its beautiful areas within it, provides so many options for dining and fun activities.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love to go for walks on local beaches and explore the local area. We also travel quite a bit for work and pleasure with planned trips to Croatia this summer for a break, a United Nations-sponsored trip to Fiji to assist with flooding problems in that country, and a trip to Australia this fall for an international wave and surge conference that I help organize. I have to admit that I am not very good at just relaxing. I usually stay fairly active even when I am not working and enjoy playing my guitar as well as non-technical writing, including one book of poetry published and some books of fiction underway.

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