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2 CLEANER and the Observatory Approach The National Science Foundation's (NSF) mission is to support the advancement of fundamental science and activities that transform the science and engineering disciplines to meet future needs. The NSF programs are continually challenged to support efforts that will enhance understanding of the sciences and engineering, resulting in improvements that are both incremental and transformative. Furthermore, NSF programs expand fundamental knowledge and support the application of that knowledge for the betterment of society. A growing challenge is the advancement of programs that address disciplinary issues of scale, both in time and in space, particularly when a discipline could be transformed by multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary efforts. The environmental observatory program can be a key and unique contributor to the future development and transformations of environmental engineering and science. An observatory that is successful in this transformation will likely have several fundamental characteristics. First, it should provide the focus for the development of new measurement technologies, allowing for the expansion, and integration of measurements over different scales of space and time. Second, the observatory should establish a constancy of measurement and support a robust data environment. These data and analyses tools should facilitate the identification of basic processes, the development of new theory and new modeling and forecasting capabilities, and support adaptive management decision-making. Finally, the observatory should serve as a center of excellence in measurement, data analyses, and simulation. It should serve as a catalyst for the evolutionary development of measurement capability, and for the transformation of environmental science and its relationship with other sciences. The scientific goal and strategic intent of the Collaborative Large-scale Engineering Analysis Network for Environmental Research (CLEANER; or if combined with the Hydrologic Observatories of the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Incorporated (CUAHSI), WATERS [see note in Chapter 1]) is to improve our understanding of the Earth's hydrologic and associated biogeochemical cycles across spatial and temporal scales--enabling quantitative forecasts of critical environmental processes, especially those in human-stressed areas (e.g., urban). It is also a CLEANER goal to develop innovative scientific and engineering tools that will enable the development of more effective adaptive approaches for resource management and creative solutions to environmental problems. The committee evaluated the information provided regarding the CLEANER observatory approach and reached conclusions regarding its value and overall benefits, its transformational potential, and its ability to fill key information gaps. 15
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16 CLEANER and NSF's Environmental Observatories VALUE OF THE OBSERVATORY APPROACH The justification for a CLEANER environmental observatory network derives from our current inability to fully understand large-scale environmental processes and thereby develop new and more effective management strategies. First, we lack the infrastructure to collect basic data at the needed temporal and spatial scales and resolution. Second, even with such data, we lack the means to analyze, integrate, and synthesize data across scales from different media and sources (e.g., observations, experiments, model simulations). Third, because of insufficient basic data we lack an adequate understanding of many underlying processes. This makes it difficult to build sufficiently accurate models and decision support systems for predicting the effects of different management strategies on society and the environment. Presently there exists a variety of environmental observations and surveillance programs (see Chapter 4). Examples of such observation networks include those of the U.S. Geological Survey (hydrology and water quality at selected sites under the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (weather), the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency (Regional Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Program), and existing programs of the NSF (e.g., the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network). All of these national observatories or monitoring programs provide valuable data, but few provide a fully integrated measurement and data analysis effort designed to advance and transform a discipline in a setting that will allow rapid interdisciplinary dissemination of fundamental and comprehensive data. Significant advances in our knowledge of water quality processes have been achieved in the past on relatively small scales. Groundwater quality observatories were common in the 1980s, such as the Borden Landfill Site in Ontario, Canada, and the Traverse City Coast Guard Site in Michigan. These are examples of successful observatories where multidisciplinary teams advanced our understanding of hazardous waste remediation and natural attenuation. Such observatories were critical in the development of numerous environmental sciences including contaminant hydrogeology, environmental microbiology, biogeochemistry, and risk assessment. They illustrate the potential important benefits derived from observatories that consider the quality as well as the quantity of surface waters together with changing land uses, pollutant loadings, and other human-induced activities in urban systems over larger spatial and temporal scales. Such multidisciplinary observatories are particularly timely considering the increasing complexity and multi-media nature of water-related environmental issues and challenges. Based on experiences with other observatories, including land-focused, large-scale LTER projects and other smaller scale water quality efforts, there is every reason to believe that the larger scale CLEANER environmental observatories should:
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CLEANER and the Observatory Approach 17 · provide environmental data needed for developing the engineering and science required to address complex environmental problems; · promote the integration of relevant multiple disciplines; · provide a structure for sustained collaboration among the environmental engineering and sciences and social sciences to achieve disciplinary as well as multidisciplinary advancement, both in theory and in practice; · ground the disciplines in information that is more complete, uniform, and transferable; and · support the scientific and engineering teams needed to meet these grand environmental challenges. CAN CLEANER BE TRANSFORMATIVE? One respect in which the results of the CLEANER observatories can transform our thinking and knowledge is by better defining and establishing how ecosystem processes contribute to the human economy. CLEANER should contribute in critically important ways to the understanding of the influence of alternative regimes of water quality and quantity on ecosystem structure and function (e.g., productivity, biogeochemistry, biodiversity) and in turn, on engineering requirements and environmental decision-making. For example, stream ecosystems and associated floodplains are important in storing and releasing water during high and low flows, for nutrient retention (and thus for enhancing water quality), for wildlife habitat, for maintenance of biodiversity, and other ways. Furthermore, since many of the manifestations of global climate change and other global trends on human society will be felt through impacts on aquatic systems, CLEANER also should be helpful in detecting and determining the impacts of climate change on environmental and engineered systems as well as offering new engineering approaches in an altered environment. Until the beginning of the industrial revolution, low-technology natural processes provided energy in support of the human economy. This energy was used directly as food, fiber, and fuel, and indirectly through such things as provision of clean water, topsoil formation, waste assimilation, and climate moderation. The rapid expansion of the use of fossil fuels over the past two centuries added a significant source of energy for the human economy and permitted exponential human population growth and energy use. Fossil energy use has both obscured the importance of more natural system energies and diminished them through human impact. There is growing evidence that availability and use of one of the most important fossil energy sources, oil, will soon peak globally and then decline. Even if this does not happen, it would
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18 CLEANER and NSF's Environmental Observatories seem that its price will continue to increase over time, likely at accelerating rates. If this is so, then energy from more natural ecosystems, (e.g., biofuels) will likely assume a relatively more important role in supporting the human economy. Therefore, programs such as CLEANER, that significantly contribute to our understanding of natural ecosystem processes and how to manage them in more sustainable ways, will be critically important. If successful, they should transform the way that society views natural systems. A corollary transformative agenda is how an observatory program contributes to the many dimensions related to humans. Human activities affect the environment and are affected by the environment. Although impact analyses have been commonplace since the 1970s, seldom has a prediction been followed up by studies to determine if the prediction was correct. Further, human influences are now pervasive with effects monitored even in wilderness areas. Clearly, to address human dimensions it is necessary to study large-scale and long-duration phenomena. This is the main rationale of observatories. The consideration of human dimensions also requires protection of human systems from adverse environmental change. Biophysical and social phenomena are closely interrelated. Understanding of processes and linkages among environmental characteristics and human systems is essential. Thus, the scientific issues addressed by CLEANER must include both the biophysical and social components. Without this understanding it is difficult to develop effective engineering approaches to managing these complex dynamic non- linear systems. Social science data collection requires infrastructure. Some of this infrastructure is already in place. The U.S. Census, for example, has data of relevance to the science described here. However, the Census is by no means complete in terms of its description of the built or managed environment. Analyses of existing social data (including land cover, land use, and infrastructure data) are needed to identify the data gaps. Moreover, the data that do exist require integration with spatial biophysical information. The integration of social and biophysical data is a data infrastructure issue. For example, both social and physical data are collected increasingly by remote sensors linked to computer networks (e.g., satellite imaging, real-time traffic, usage monitoring). Biophysical data will come increasingly from sensors linked to cyberinfrastructure networks. This topic is further discussed in Chapter 4. Additional examples of ways in which CLEANER can be transformative are presented in Chapter 3 where we review some research challenges that CLEANER could address. HOW CAN CLEANER FILL IN THE GAPS? Gaps remain in our understanding of the environment. Some of these gaps can be addressed by an observatory approach. One cannot observe ecosystem behavior on scales relevant to managers of large-scale environmental systems,
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CLEANER and the Observatory Approach 19 such as river basins as large as the Mississippi, or ecosystems such as the Everglades, without taking measurements of processes and attributes at those spatial scales. Bringing part of those ecosystems into the laboratories helps researchers gain knowledge of individual components of particular processes, but not of the ecosystem as a whole. For example, how can human reaction to air and water quality be measured or quantified in a laboratory in isolation to the other influences on their behavior? How can one predict the fate and transport of pollutants in surface water and groundwater systems in the Everglades without measuring pollutant concentrations along with the water flows and volumes in those water bodies? Integration of laboratory and field-based investigations of the physical and socioeconomic sciences in the CLEANER program should fill major gaps in the environmental sciences. We need to address fundamental gaps in our understanding of the environment and how humans interact with it. We need more and better quality data to evaluate the impact of human activities on environmental processes at multiple spatial and temporal scales, including the effects of urbanization and engineering systems and changes in types and amounts of pollutants associated with changes in land and water use. Data are also needed to establish a clearer etiology between water quality and the magnitudes of extreme events. We need to study global climate change within a hydrogeochemical context, including the propensity to propagate water-borne infectious diseases or hinder ecosystem functioning and biogeochemical cycling. These studies require data over large spatial and temporal scales. The availability of such data is a critical need if we are to validate conceptual and mathematical models and develop improved forecasting capabilities that are increasingly needed to enhance decision-making and environmental risk management. Examples of forecasting capabilities that are of national interest and have impacts on water and other environmental resources include: · the occurrence of red tides along our coastal zones; · the dynamics of anoxia and hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay and their impacts on fisheries resources; · the degradation of river systems such as the loss of wetlands and water quality deterioration in the Mississippi and other basins; · Cryptosporidium and viral outbreaks in potable water distribution systems; · the spread of water-borne pathogens requiring beach closings; · drought conditions that increase the propensity for rangeland and forest fires; · new environmental and public health impacts of emerging pollutants;
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20 CLEANER and NSF's Environmental Observatories · developmental toxicity of aquatic species chronically exposed to low levels of xenobiotics; · early warning systems for diminished value of ecosystem services; · impacts of changes in our energy sources, supplies, and uses; · impacts of growth and changes in our agricultural practices; · very low frequency events such as floods and accidents that can cause major disruption to environmental and human systems; · short-term events (e.g., storm water generation) where multiple factors interact to produce concentration/duration/frequency changes that are key to predicting consequences such as the extent and impact of non-point pollution; and · long-term consequences of human-accelerated environmental change where effects are produced over time scales of generations and responses are typified by subtle changes in complex systems' characteristics. SUMMARY It is our conclusion that CLEANER's proposed environmental observatory network has the potential to accomplish a number of objectives. If implemented, it should provide over time extensive and essential information for the improved management of stressed environmental resources. From the integrated physical, chemical, biological, and socioeconomic data obtained from CLEANER's observatories, we should gain an improved understanding of how complex environmental systems function and interact with and are impacted by human activities. The data and understanding stemming from this observatory approach should allow for improved forecasting capabilities and understanding and lead to solutions to the impacts of urbanization and land and water use changes. In addition, CLEANER should contribute to science and engineering education by engaging the academic community collaboratively in complex, large-scale, multi-disciplinary, real-world problems. As a note of caution, certain conditions need to prevail and pitfalls avoided for the full potential of CLEANER to be realized. These are discussed in Chapter 4.
Representative terms from entire chapter: