Colorado State University Engineering Professor Awarded $1 Million to Study Wave Turbulence

Note to Reporters: Photos of Karan Venayagamoorthy are available with the news release at

One of Colorado State University’s talented young engineering professors has been awarded two major grants worth $1 million from the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research to study waves and ocean turbulence.

Karan Venayagamoorthy, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, studies internal waves (waves that propagate beneath the ocean’s surface) which are ubiquitous in the ocean to better understand their role in oceanic turbulence and mixing. His latest grants are expected to help him develop better turbulence models to more reliably predict mixing and hence the ocean’s role in global climate.

He received word on Tuesday that he had received the Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research – one of only 26 researchers from around the country who received the award this year. Venayagamoorthy is the only one from a Colorado university to receive the award, which provides $500,000 for his research over three years.

The award is one of the oldest and most selective scientific research advancement programs in the country. Its purpose is to fund early-career academic researchers whose scientific pursuits show exceptional promise for supporting the Navy and Marine Corps while also promoting their professional development.

In February, he received a five-year, $517,000 NSF Career Award, which is considered the most prestigious award bestowed on junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research that is integrated with a strong educational component.

Venayagamoorthy’s expertise is in environmental fluid mechanics, which can be defined as the study of naturally occurring fluid flows in the earth’s hydrosphere and atmosphere. In particular, he is interested in understanding turbulence caused by flow interactions with underwater topographic features and other environmental influences such as density stratification. Most of his fundamental research focuses on turbulence in oceanic flows caused by internal waves beneath the ocean’s surface. Specifically, the emphasis is on understanding the generation, propagation, interaction and ultimate dissipation of internal waves that leads to turbulent mixing.

“The fundamental role of turbulence induced by internal waves underneath the surface of the ocean is not really understood,” Venayagamoorthy said. “Working with undergraduate and graduate students in my research group, we’ll perform high resolution numerical simulations with fluid particle tracking to study turbulence in oceanic flows and develop new diagnostic tools to help us more accurately model the effects of turbulence caused by breaking internal waves in large scale circulation models.

“The broader impacts of this research come from improved turbulence models for applications in oceanography, atmospheric science and engineering, especially concerning climate change, environmental sustainability, renewable energy and national security,” he said.

Venayagamoorthy is establishing an environmental fluid dynamics program at Colorado State with an emphasis on skill sets required to solve complex geophysics and engineering related problems in multi-disciplinary settings. Research and education are integrated through two new graduate courses that he intends to develop in environmental fluid mechanics, in addition to two other graduate courses that Venayagamoorthy has already developed at CSU.

Venayagamoorthy joined the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Colorado State in 2008. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of Kwazulu-Natal (formerly known as the University of Natal in Durban, South Africa) and his doctorate in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Stanford University. More information on his research is available at