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Student’s dam failure study published

Peter Oduor, associate professor of geology and geography, has seen his student’s research published before, but this was the first time it had appeared on a pillow.

A colleague found the pillow at this summer’s Esri International User Conference in San Diego. It featured a map from research work primarily conducted by Jacqueline Stenehjem with geographic information systems mentoring provided by Oduor.

Stenehjem, a former assistant professor at Williston State College, is pursuing a doctoral degree in entomology at NDSU, focusing on flooding and mosquito control issues within Missouri River wetlands near Williston, N.D.

The map was part of a dam failure study, which used geographic information systems and remote sensing technologies to analyze risks and potential losses for Williston, N.D., should Montana’s Fort Peck Dam catastrophically fail. Williston is located 227 miles downstream of the dam. Built in the 1930s, it is the country’s largest hydraulically filled, multi-purpose dam and is on the fifth-largest reservoir in the U.S.

Since the construction of the dam, Williston officials have worried about safety if the dam were to fail. Stenehjem’s study found if Fort Peck Dam were to catastrophically fail at full capacity, Williston city officials would have two days to evacuate all its residents. Once floodwaters reached the city, the protective levee south of Williston would be overtopped with 24 feet of water. A total of 89 percent of industrial, 70 percent of commercial and 55 percent of residential areas would be flooded.

Funding for the research came in part from the National Science Foundation, NASA and National Geographic Education through Integrated Geospatial Education and Technology Training, known as iGETT. The iGETT catastrophic dam failure study was done as a community service project with a key public outreach component. National Science Foundation funding was through grant DUE 0703185.

The research has been featured in the ESRI Map Book at, Directions Magazine at, Earth Magazine’s October 2012 issue and NASA at

NDSU is recognized as one of the nation's top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.

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North Dakota State University
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Last Updated: Monday, May 19, 2014
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