Click for next page ( 22


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 21
3 Grand Water Challenges and Research Questions In 1998, the National Science Foundation (NSF) asked the National Research Council (NRC) to identify the most important and challenging scientific questions across all environmental sciences. These were to be called the "grand challenges." In response, an NRC committee was formed and after two years of study published a report titled Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences (NRC, 2001). These challenges were to improve our understanding of: biogeochemical cycles and how they may be impacted by human activities; biological diversity and ecosystem functioning and how they are impacted by human activities; climate variability, and how it is being altered by human activity; hydrologic forecasting to predict changes in surface water, groundwater, sediment, and interactions with land and aquatic ecosystems; infectious disease pathogens and their relationship with the environment, ecosystems, other pathogens, hosts/receptors, and their threats to other living organisms; institutional impacts on human use of environmental resources; land-use interactions with hydrology, ecology, and human welfare; and life cycle of materials used by humanity over space and time. Our committee believes these "grand challenges" are as relevant today as they were when published, especially from a water science and technology perspective (the scope of our assignment). Each of these challenges can be better met, and perhaps some can be only met effectively, by the implementation of the proposed environmental observatories for hydrology, environmental sciences and engineering, and ecology. In this chapter we identify some important and complex, water-related research issues and questions that stem from these grand challenges. Successfully addressing these issues and questions will depend largely on the availability of large-scale, comprehensive, and integrated physical, biological, chemical, and social data and information derived from these environmental observatories. 21

OCR for page 21
22 CLEANER and NSF's Environmental Observatories RESEARCH CRITERIA The NSF has identified several research criteria for the types of questions the Collaborative Large-scale Engineering Analysis Network for Environmental Research (CLEANER) seeks to address. They are explained below. The committee believes these criteria can be used to set priorities not only for the research activities associated with the environmental observatories, but also for the design of the environmental observatories themselves, including data to be collected and the characteristics of the associated cyberinfrastructure networks. The research results supported by data collected through CLEANER could lead to substantial advances in the environmental sciences and have measurable, positive effects on the environment. CLEANER should strive to achieve this by: providing advanced sensor systems for data collection, advanced tools for data mining, aggregation, analysis, and visualization, and predictive modeling of environmental management strategies; identifying effective adaptive management approaches for human- stressed complex environmental systems based on enhanced site observations, experimentation, modeling, engineering analysis, and design; promoting and improving interactions among a broader group of engineering and science communities, including social scientists, in ways that result in greater benefits than would come from individual separate investigations; and engaging the academic and government scientists collaboratively in identifying, examining, and providing possible solutions to complex real-world problems. These goals can serve as criteria for selecting the broad research questions to be addressed using the data and infrastructure provided by CLEANER. This chapter identifies some research areas illustrative of what should help achieve these goals. RESEARCH AREAS Research appropriate for inclusion in CLEANER can be divided into three main categories: (1) interactions among humans, the environment, and ecosystems; (2) innovative engineering approaches for improving water quantity and quality management; and (3) design of CLEANER's environmental observatories. The first two categories group research questions designed to advance knowledge of phenomena and processes and to provide tools and information for water management to sustain a healthy economy. The research

OCR for page 21
Grand Water Challenges and Research Questions 23 questions in these two categories represent challenges in water environmental science and engineering. The third category includes research issues related to the design of CLEANER observatories and the development of tools and technology that will permit the collection of long-term data over large scales. These three broad research areas are obvious candidates for inclusion within the proposed CLEANER environmental observatory network program. Interactions among Humans, the Environment, and Ecosystems Research Question: How can we better understand biogeochemical cycling in river and estuarine systems? How are these cycles influenced by human activities? Over the years, our nation's urban river/estuarine systems have been degraded by habitat/watershed alteration and by numerous stressors, including rural and urban point and non-point runoff, industrial waste discharges, combined sewer overflows, landfill leachate, atmospheric deposition, and invasive species. These stressors have altered the cycling of nutrients, in particular carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in terrestrial and aquatic systems. Although these perturbations to hydrologic systems are particularly noticeable in urban areas and in coastal areas close to population centers, they are observed in many other parts of the nation, even in more pristine environments. Environmental observatory data should reveal how natural systems may be perturbed by humans and their activities. To this end, one strategy may be to develop similar observational/model-building programs focusing on a range from the more pristine to the more heavily impacted systems. A comprehensive network of sensors deployed in these increasingly impacted systems is likely to shed new light on physical, chemical, biological, and geological processes. This approach would likely have a high degree of success if the proposed environmental observatories provide data of sufficient temporal and spatial resolution to quantify the dominant environmental processes. The development of continuous measurement technologies would provide a unique opportunity to understand processes controlling perturbed aquatic systems. As human population continues to increase, these ecosystems will likely be stressed further. Consequently, evolving patterns of water quality variability are anticipated. Historically, scientific studies have examined such variability primarily at weekly, seasonal, and annual time scales in recognition of complex biogeochemical interactions and their associated time scales. However, recent studies indicate that short-term (e.g., hourly) water quality variability can greatly increase our understanding of processes and can lead to strategies for mitigating adverse human impacts on the water quality and ecology of our nation's urban rivers and estuaries (Cloern et al., 1989; DiLorenzo et al., 2004). The observatory approach seems well suited to study such variability and develop associated physical and biogeochemical controls.

OCR for page 21
24 CLEANER and NSF's Environmental Observatories Research Question: To what extent can humans alter their environment and its ecosystems while still sustaining desired levels of ecosystem function? How far can humans alter water regimes and landscapes before recovery cannot be economically achieved? Environmental and ecological systems, of which humans are an integral part, can be overwhelmed by human actions, thus compromising system services. Water quality managers use the term "assimilative capacity" to denote just how much of some pollutant can be discharged into a water body without violating some threshold condition, such as a water quality concentration standard, or the minimum conditions that will sustain aquatic life. The focus has been on modeling, predicting, and managing the pollutant assimilative capacity of water. CLEANER's proposed environmental observatories would provide the opportunity to address larger, more complex, and multi-component environmental systems. The focus and scope of management could be expanded from the typical point and non-point sources of pollutants and smaller scale activities to the consideration of system level issues in landscapes and ecosystems. The importance of ecosystem services as a critical component of our human-dominated environment is well known (Palmer et al., 2004). The improved understanding that could be gained from research stemming from CLEANER would enhance our ability to better manage and protect those ecosystem services. Research undertaken using the data obtained from environmental observatory programs could identify just how far humans can stress ecosystems before catastrophic regime shifts produce a loss of services that cannot be economically engineered, restored, or replaced. Observatories where a range of differently stressed conditions exist and are monitored, and that are subjected to different management strategies, should provide the data and information needed to better understand the causes of such shifts in ecosystem states and services and how to prevent them. For example, the Everglades restoration project in south Florida is essentially an existing large-scale environmental observatory in which there is a range of environmental states and ecosystem conditions. Human activities have altered many of the Everglades water regimes and landscapes. The monitoring and study of this system over time gives the managers of that system useful information on how it works and how to better manage and restore it (NRC, 2003). Observatory networks in other regions of the country can help fill this information need in those regions. Through observatory programs, there exists the potential for the development of modeling techniques that will offer more reliable long time period predictions, which will be adapted and validated over time as new data become available. These models, supported by observatory data, will continually refine our understanding of ecosystems by offering a feedback loop: environmental data are used to build and run models and model outputs are used to assess initial assumptions that drove data collection so that new data collection can further refine the models and improve prediction. This iterative

OCR for page 21
Grand Water Challenges and Research Questions 25 process must respond and adapt to changing environmental/ecosystem and human factors. Further, we must recognize the critical social component and sustain a long-term commitment to data collection and model development needed to continue the research needed to support any proposed adaptive prediction and management strategy. Research Question: How will changes in climate, land cover, and land use affect water quantity and quality regimes and how will that impact ecosystem health and other uses of water such as for drinking, irrigation, industry, and recreation? Climate and land use are two of the most important factors influencing aquatic ecosystems. Both of these factors will continue to undergo change in the next half century or longer. Climate change is well documented, yet how it will affect ecosystem function over time is less certain. Land use change is known to affect stream response, yet the pathways of water and constituent transport are not well understood, especially in human-dominated landscapes (Allan, 2004). Environmental observatories should enable scientists and engineers to document hydrologic pathways and understand the consequences of differences in network structure for aquatic ecosystems. Questions regarding land use change that alter landscapes and affect ecosystem function include: how much does strip mining affect water quality; what is the effect of paving in urban areas on ground water recharge; and how much of the nutrient load in an estuary is caused by poultry farming? Understanding how the nation's aquatic resources and their ability to provide ecosystem services will respond to changes in climate and land use is an important, but difficult research goal. An observatory approach offers the promise of providing answers to these and other questions that are difficult if not impossible to answer using more conventional research strategies. The direct effects of climate and land use change on lakes, rivers, and wetlands, although the subject of many studies, are still difficult to predict across a range of local, regional, and continental scales. Because lakes, rivers, and wetlands provide many important ecosystem services, such as water for drinking, irrigation, industry, recreation, and waste treatment, natural and socioeconomic processes are intertwined in complex ways that must be taken into account. For example, as aquatic resources change in quality, humans respond in a variety of political, social, and economic ways to mitigate (or exacerbate) these changes. The reciprocal feedbacks inherent in coupled human and natural systems (humans affect ecosystems which then affect humans) makes understanding how climate and land use change will affect aquatic ecosystems even more complex and difficult. Developing the needed understanding will require a series of activities including long-term observations, comparative studies, modeling, and experiments. Environmental observatory systems have the potential to inform

OCR for page 21
26 CLEANER and NSF's Environmental Observatories and support all of these activities. Observatory system activities must include measurements and modeling of flows of water and solutes (including inputs, outputs, and transport and changes within the system), detailed observation and modeling of land use change at a variety of spatial scales, methods of making regional scale climate projections, and forecasting human responses to, and economic impacts of, changes in the quantities and qualities of aquatic resources. This better understanding should facilitate the development of forecasting tools to explore alternative future scenarios. These tools could be used to examine how aquatic ecosystems are affected by climate change and alternative engineering infrastructure designs, management policies, agricultural practices, and other environmental modifications under human control. A CLEANER network could focus on biogeochemical processes and contaminant fate and transport and interface with various biological investigations. The following are examples of the kinds of questions that could be addressed: How does the replacement of small streams with stormwater pipes or tile drains (or the loss of small streams because of groundwater pumping) alter the amount of nitrogen (or other elements or contaminants of interest) exported from a watershed? Is there a threshold of network alteration after which the behavior of the system is fundamentally different? How can strategically restoring a wetland in the landscape affect processes? Can network analysis contribute new insights or approaches that would lead to a better understanding of the movement of water, elements, and organisms in natural and human designed stream networks? Innovative Engineering Approaches for Improving Water Quantity and Quality Management Research Question: How can we improve hydrologic forecasting? An intelligent environmental control system (IECS) could be developed that would incorporate comprehensive hydrologic data into the design and operation of complex water resources systems. An IECS would allow for water flow and water quality monitoring of an urban ecosystem and would help control the use of resources to enhance and protect ecosystem function and human health. This system could include: 1. a network of sensors to measure flow;

OCR for page 21
Grand Water Challenges and Research Questions 27 2. robotic water quality monitoring sites deployed in the watershed of an urban ecosystem; 3. near real-time analysis capability that uses the sensor data with sophisticated "whole-system" models to forecast conditions; 4. a robust communication system linking sensors and automated models with "control sites;" and 5. control sites where environmental managers and/or automatic control devices could act on the forecast and make modifications to preserve the quality of resources such as water supplies and receiving waters. Local, state, and federal agencies, including the National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Geological Survey, have made investments in providing information for forecasting. Partnerships with these agencies can provide systems that can be used by water resource planners and/or managers to evaluate and make decisions on the use of alternate water supplies, alternative levels of drinking or wastewater treatment, or alternative locations of effluent discharge. For example, during a drought, surface water sensors and water quality models might indicate that dissolved oxygen will decrease to unacceptable levels prompting wastewater treatment plant operators to decrease nutrient discharge to receiving water. If the "control loop" extends to long-term policy-level decisions or near real-time actuation of a sluice gate/valve, such an IECS could significantly enhance the protection and use of urban ecosystems and the health and safety of its human inhabitants. Assessing ecosystem condition, modeling, and process-level studies are critical components in programs of environmental research and management. Assessing ecosystem condition establishes linkages to human and ecosystem health, provides insight into watershed processes, supports development, testing, and application of mathematical models, assesses efficacy of environmental management and control efforts, and provides a vehicle to educate students and engage the public in important local environmental issues. Mathematical models are effective integrators of assessment data and related research activities, including the results of process studies. They provide a quantitative vehicle to test the understanding of complex ecosystems. Further, successfully verified models provide the foundation to evaluate management alternatives and guide rehabilitation of impacted ecosystems. Process- level studies provide a basic understanding of phenomena and, when conducted quantitatively, can be used in process model formulation and parameterization. Assessment, modeling, and process-level studies should result in improved ecosystem management. While prototypes of the IECS have been developed, there are several barriers to a fully functioning, integrated system that need to be overcome. These barriers include the development of sensors for several critical water parameters (e.g., nutrients, toxic contaminants); the development, testing, and

OCR for page 21
28 CLEANER and NSF's Environmental Observatories application of predictive water quality models and the integration of these models with the near real-time data acquisition system; process-level studies and field experiments to provide a quantitative understanding of critical processes, and to parameterize and test models; and the timely transfer, processing, and management of streams of environmental quality data. We now lack sensor technology to assess anything more than rudimentary biological processes and phenomena. It may be possible to use specific photosynthetic pigments to characterize algal assemblages and detect potentially harmful algae, but what about vertebrates and invertebrates? And having real-time knowledge of where fish are swimming in a river system could be extremely valuable in making decisions on modifications to dam infrastructure, reservoir water releases, water diversions, and wastewater effluent discharges during critical periods. Research Question: How can we find solutions to existing and emerging problems involving contaminants in the environment that affect ecosystems and human health? A number of issues have emerged that involve the fate and transport of contaminants and are of national concern. Some of these issues are in need of innovative engineering research based on data that could be obtained from the observatories. We need research results that can assist managers in dealing with contaminated sediments and contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and household products affecting ecosystems and human health. Containing or removing contaminated sediments is one of the most difficult site environmental remediation issues managers face today. Management actions typically are designed to reduce or eliminate the risk of contaminated sediments to humans and the environment. Contaminated sediments in water bodies are typically subject to temporally and spatially varying overlying flows. Under extreme high flows, often resulting from storm events, these contaminated sediments can be suspended and transported to new sites. The volumes of these contaminated sediments can exceed, in some cases, millions of cubic meters. This creates challenges not only when considering their removal but also their disposal on landfill sites. In addition, the removal of contaminants from the sediments typically results in the contamination of even more water. All of these problems make remediation of contaminated sediments a difficult and costly process. Effective low-cost management of contaminated sediments is rarely possible. Research is needed on management options that do not require removing the contaminated sediments. An environmental observatory in a location such as the Great Lakes or similar setting would provide the opportunity to monitor and study impacts of sediment management measures on the aquatic environment. Residuals from pharmaceutical and personal care products are entering the aquatic environment. Their long-term impacts on natural ecosystems or on human health are not known. A challenge for observatories is to determine what

OCR for page 21
Grand Water Challenges and Research Questions 29 products are the most deleterious for long-term ecosystem health and to develop sensors to measure them at relevant and temporal scales. Investigations using molecular analytical techniques might provide additional information about cellular changes that affect bacteria and algae within an ecosystem. Several new methods exist that need further development and application to examine the effects of contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals, on ecosystem health. Near real-time monitoring of water microbes could be realized to determine population mutations and information about community structure level (e.g., population shifts, changes in diversity, and tolerance to stress). Design of CLEANER's Environmental Observatories Three overarching design features incorporated into the research questions will distinguish the CLEANER environmental observatories from other programs. These design features of CLEANER's environmental observatories should: 1. include multiple types of sensors for collecting comprehensive and integrated environmental data over large spatial and long temporal scales; 2. include a robust and adaptable cyberinfrastructure that can link to other databases; and 3. permit the collection and use of social science data along with physical, chemical, and biological data needed to address environmental problems caused by human activities. Use of Sensors The development and implementation of various types of remote and in-situ sensors and their data transmission networks is an important and prominent component of CLEANER and other environmental observatories. For many chemical and biological parameters we would like to measure, we are sensor limited. A report entitled Sensors for Environmental Observatories (NSF, 2005) from a NSF-sponsored workshop in December 2004, points out the need for: new types of sensors with new capabilities; the ability to link sensors to a broader cyberinfrastructure network; and long-term autonomous deployment and maintenance. Physical sensors, such as for the measurement of heat, are the most developed, whereas chemical and biological sensors are the least developed. Networks of

OCR for page 21
30 CLEANER and NSF's Environmental Observatories embedded sensors are emerging that allow for integrated, intelligent, self- regulating, and self-correcting systems. New sensor technologies include nanosensors that are embedded within plants and animals as well as in water supply pipes, treatment plants, and reservoirs and wastewater collection and treatment systems. This technology also includes computational tools for data mining, sensor calibration, and verification. Working with the federal agencies, near real-time monitoring with such sensor and associated technology with ties to weather data, satellite information, etc., can improve the accuracy and breadth of models used for predictions and reduce response times to natural or human- caused adverse environmental events. Integrated Data Collection and Storage The individual environmental observatories under CLEANER should be problem-oriented and hence focus on data collection relevant to current and possible future problems. As problems change, scientists and engineers face a major challenge in predicting what data should be collected today that will meet the data needs of researchers and managers in the future. For example, data collected to provide regular surveillance of condition and state indicators might fail to meet future needs for problem analysis. For example, the widespread occurrence of antibiotics in freshwaters was not anticipated or monitored until fairly recently, and we are not currently monitoring nanoparticples in the environment. Surveillance programs may be based on parameters and frequency of sampling that can provide time correlation, but little insight into process. Thus we have snapshots of condition or state with little correlation to mechanisms, causes, or possible outcomes. As scientific knowledge increases, an evaluation of the adequacy of the surveillance program needs to be addressed. In a quality assurance plan, the starting point for a data collection effort is the identification of the program and project objectives. Objective statements drive both the data collection and analysis efforts. Quality control is an important issue for large databases if the data are to be compared. A challenge is how to control and record data quality collected from the field by different methods and analyzed by different laboratories and by the use of different types of sensors. The challenge in design of an observatory network will be adopting methods to assure that problem solutions are not just local and that the maximum utility is achieved from any surveillance data. The observatories should not just make measurements; the observatories should use measurements to identify principles and processes that are transferable to other locations. The need exists for the development of a system to house and share the data obtained from the observatories. A robust cyberinfrastructure that provides a common framework and can link to multiple databases will facilitate a national resource for hydrologic, environmental, and social data. The cyberinfrastructure

OCR for page 21
Grand Water Challenges and Research Questions 31 issues related to storage, access to, and sharing of data from the observatories are discussed in more detail in Chapter 4. Integration of the Social Sciences Each of the NSF planned environmental observatories calls for the integration of social science data and research along with the hydrologic, environmental, and ecological research programs. This is absolutely necessary if human interactions with the environment are to be better understood. How can this integration best be done? Harnessing the value that social science can bring will require reaching out to involve and fund the social science community and to help NSF articulate why social sciences are a vital part of the observatory mission. While all environmental observatory plans call for the integration of the social sciences and biophysical sciences and data measurement and collection capabilities, this may not happen unless NSF adequately funds such activities. Although the origins of the proposed environmental observatories came from physical sciences and engineering, this makes the need for a strong social science component no less important. The primary reason research in the natural sciences and in engineering is funded is to improve the welfare of society. But how society values and uses the advances in the natural sciences and engineering is a social science research issue. Research in the "policy relevance" of the observatory programs is vital to their initiation and continuation over the long term, and to further understanding the dynamics between humans and the state of their environment. Watersheds are not pristine, closed systems. Accordingly, analyses of the fate, transport, restoration, preservation, and human impact of environmental resources depend on intervening social variables. Many environmental systems are highly engineered. This engineering may be formal (e.g., the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operating a reservoir system or the stormwater infrastructure of a city) or informal (e.g., pollutant deposition arising from various human activities). Cause and effect in the biophysical system cannot be satisfactorily demonstrated unless these social variables are part of measurement and modeling. Moreover, ecological and social interactions work both ways. Ecological conditions can foster economic activity (natural amenities lead to employment and development), which can in turn lead to ecological degradation. Social scientists are interested in the human affects of and responses to these decisions and interactions. And the results of social science research should feed back into the biophysically predictive models, because human activity affects biophysical outcomes. Determining the value of information is a social science issue. Social science helps explain how the value of information is measured or predicted. Social science can help relate biophysical change to its impact on human communities. And social science may provide partners more adept at public

OCR for page 21
32 CLEANER and NSF's Environmental Observatories communication. Without participation of the social sciences, the biophysical and environmental engineering focus of the observatories may be missing opportunities to demonstrate their broader value. Finally, the observatory-based CLEANER programs need to educate social scientists. The social science community has a limited understanding of what these programs are and their future potential for the social as well as physical sciences. Harnessing the value that social science can provide will bring added public (and political) support but will require significant outreach to the social science community. SUMMARY This chapter identifies some of the major challenges that could be addressed by those involved in the planning, design, and operation or use of a CLEANER environmental observatory network. Having a long-term large-scale integrated data base obtained from environmental observatories should make it much more likely that research directed at the challenges similar to the ones we pose will begin to provide knowledge and will lead to more effective engineering and management actions that improve, protect, and sustain our environmental resources and ecosystems into an uncertain future. Regarding the interactions among humans, the aquatic environment, and ecosystems, a CLEANER network of observatories could undertake research to: better understand biogeochemical cycling in river and estuarine systems and how these cycles are influenced by human activities; understand the extent to which humans can alter their environment and its ecosystems while still sustaining desired levels of ecosystem function and determine how far humans can alter water regimes and landscapes before recovery cannot be economically achieved; and learn how changes in climate, land cover, and land use affect water quantity and quality regimes and how those changes will impact ecosystem health and other uses of water such as for drinking, irrigation, industry, and recreation. Regarding an increased understanding and improved management of our biophysical environment, a CLEANER network of observatories could undertake research to: improve our capabilities in hydrologic forecasting and find solutions to existing and emerging problems involving contaminants in the environment that affect ecosystems and human health.

OCR for page 21
Grand Water Challenges and Research Questions 33 There are also research challenges associated with the design and operation of CLEANER's environmental observatories. These include issues related to: the use, deployment, and evaluation of multiple types of sensors for collecting comprehensive and integrated environmental data over large spatial and long temporal scales; the development of the components of a robust and adaptable cyberinfrastructure that can link to other databases; and the collection and use of social science data along with physical, chemical, and biological data needed to address environmental problems caused by human activities.