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Louisville District Geologist Selected for Engineer Research and Development Center University

Published May 6, 2020

Vicksburg, Miss.— A developmental assignment and subsequent deployment delayed his Army Engineer Research and Development Center University application, but Louisville District geologist David Robison was selected for the class of 2020 and is now working with his mentors to develop tools and methods for possible incorporation into regular levee inspection and risk assessment programs.        

“I first heard about ERDC-U in 2017,” Robison said. “I was visiting the ERDC campus in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to talk with geological and geotechnical researchers about the possibility of collaborating on some research. I was introduced to the ERDC University program and encouraged to apply. I intended to apply that year for the 2018 ERDC-U program, but the day I was going to submit my application, I received notice that I had been selected to serve on a six-month developmental assignment as the Headquarters’ Dam Safety Endowed Chair.” 

Though the developmental assignment delayed his application a bit, it didn’t put a stop to Robison’s interest in the program.

“While completing that assignment in Washington D.C., I was encouraged to then deploy to Mosul Dam in Iraq to assist with the grout project being done there to remediate the dam,” Robison said. “So, after a nine-month deployment to Iraq, I was finally able to submit my ERDC-U application for the 2020 program.”

Now in its fifth year, ERDC-U features six-month sessions, which are sponsored by the Directorate of Human Capital and the Office of Research and Technology Transfer. The program provides opportunities for ERDC subject-matter experts to be paired with division and district selectees and apply and implement technical solutions.

In some ways the ERDC-U kick-off week was like a tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory,” Robison said about his first days in Vicksburg, which were March 3-6. “It was fast-paced, there was a lot to see, and the researchers giving the tours were excited to show all the labs, tools, software, and equipment that they have at their disposal.”

“It was great to see the equipment and meet the researchers that will help in my research collaboration, but also see and learn of other research that can help with the work I do at my home district,” Robison said. “During the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory tour, I learned about the AdH software being developed there, which can, among other things, predict wave heights due to landslides into reservoirs. This is common scenario that is considered during dam risk assessments.”

Using his bachelor’s of engineering geology from Brigham Young University and his master’s in geology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as his expertise with the Louisville District’s Dam and Levee Safety Risk Cadre, Robison serves on a team of engineers and scientists who evaluate hazards and assess the risk of dams and levees. 

“These risk assessments are used to prioritize remediation and construction funding to ensure the greatest possible reduction of flood risk to the public,” Robison said.

 ERDC-U Project and Goals

During his six-month session, Robison will test the efficacy and feasibility to detect and map former river channels that cross levees, using light detection and ranging technology. LIDAR is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges and variable distances to the Earth.

He will collaborate with ERDC researchers Julie Kelley Berry and Dr. Joseph B. Dunbar with the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory and Jennifer G. Laird from the Environmental Laboratory.

“We will test the efficacy of both land-based LIDAR and LIDAR sensors attached to unmanned aerial vehicles,” Robison said. “The goal of the project is to show that LIDAR and UAV technology can be used quickly, accurately, and at a minimal cost to identify locations where old river and stream channels cross levees, where issues with under-seepage may develop.  If successful, the tools and methods could be incorporated into regular levee inspection and risk assessment programs,” Robison said.

For more information on the ERDC University program, visit