Archive for the ‘Ocean & Water’ Category
Thames Valley Sewer System overwhelmed and instrumentation destroyed, how you can contribute to water monitoring with citizen science.
Flooding is not just a problem for residents and local businesses; it is also a major issue for the UK’s water companies. Throughout the closing months of 2013 and the start of the current year, England was hit with torrential rain and areas of serious flooding; especially in the southern regions. The amount of flood water entering the sewage pipe network caused companies like Thames Water to lose all of their instrumentation and monitoring equipment. Floodwater effectively drowned the devices put in place by the company, meaning they had to replace them all.
This procedure involved turning water supplies off as engineers installed new monitoring equipment, costing millions of pounds to implement. The exact amount of money this cost Thames Water is uncertain and is hard to specify; it all very much depends on the type of monitoring equipment and the scale of repair. Whatever the cost, it is an expense Thames Water could have done without! So why didn’t the instrumentation in place warn Thames Water of the flood risk before it actually happened? What can the company do to avoid this problem in the future? This article aims to answer these questions.
Flood Management – Who is Responsible?
Nationally, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is responsible for flood policies and coastal erosion risk management. This organisation also provides funding for flood risk management authorities via grants from the Environmental Agency and other local authorities. There are other societies and authorities that share responsibility of flood management including:
- The Environment Agency – Operational responsibility for overseeing the risk of flooding from main reservoirs, rivers, estuaries and the sea. This association is also a coastal erosion rick management authority.
- Lead Local Flood Authorities – Responsible for creating, maintaining and applying strategies for local flood risk management and also keeping a register of flood risk assets. These authorities analyse the risk of flooding from surface water and groundwater.
- District Councils – Working alongside Lead Local Flood Authorities and other organisations, these are important partners in planning local flood risk management schemes and carrying out operations on minor watercourses.
- Highway Authorities – Responsible for supplying and maintaining highway drainage and roadside ditches. These must ensure road projects to not interfere with or increase the risk of flooding.
- Water and Sewerage Companies – These companies are also responsible for managing flood risks, from both water and foul or combined sewer systems.
All of these mentioned authorities have a duty to co-operate with each other and to share information, under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. This act ensures all flood risk management authorities work together to provide the best possible flood risk management for the benefit of the relevant communities.
What Causes Flooding?
Aside from the obvious, there are quite a few possible causes of flooding. Terrible weather with relentless rainfall is of course the main cause of most floods, but there are other contributory factors too. Climate change, deforestation, population growth and paving over natural drainage areas are all putting increasing pressure on the UK’s sewerage network. This can be made even worse by individuals putting inappropriate substances and products into the drains, such as wet-wipes and food products.
But what caused such major flooding in the Thames Valley area? How did the company lose all of its instrumentation and why was this area affected so badly by the weather? Well, the majority of areas within England have divided sewers to take rainwater and foul waste separately; but in many areas of London the sewer system is combined. This means foul waste and rainwater is combined in one sewer system. During a heavy storm this can cause the sewer flow to be much greater than usual and can often reach maximum capacity; causing the system to overflow and destroy the monitoring equipment installed.
Citizen Science – Weather@home 2014
As UK water companies identify and implement a definitive sustainable solution to flooding, what can normal citizens do to help in the meantime? Well first and foremost, information on recent flooding events in your area will help experts further understand the processes and how best to avoid the risk. So photographs, measurements and any other kind of recorded information you can obtain will help towards this.
The University of Oxford currently have a team of scientists who are working on a new citizen science project, Weather@home 2014, designed to help better understand the 2013-14 floods within the UK. There are many arguments as to what causes flooding; including inundated drainage systems, inadequate flood defences and increased urbanisation of land. But perhaps the most consistent debate lies with the connection between climate change and extreme weather changes. Weather@home 2014 investigates how much effect climate change had on the UK winter storms and aims to answer this question via the use of climate models.
Running climate models can be extremely time-consuming, but more runs mean more comparisons and ultimately stronger trends. With this in mind, scientists are asking anybody who is interested in helping out to sign up and help complete up to 30,000 climate model reruns of winter 2013-14. Each rerun will have different assumptions about the influences of climate change on weather patterns. This is an innovative approach as it uses citizens as contributors to scientific analysis, rather than simple data collectors. Results are still pouring in and live outcomes are being posted on the project website almost every single day.
Citizen Science – Doing Flood Risk Science Differently
Flood scientist Stuart Lane and a group of researchers have been participating in another citizen science project; taking a completely different approach. The published paper, Doing flood risk science differently: an experiment in radical scientific method, details the work of an interdisciplinary team of natural and social scientists attempting an experiment in flood management within the Pickering area. The project involves scientific experts and citizens with experience in flooding, without providing them with pre-defined roles.
Each group worked in unison to generate new knowledge about a particular flooding event and to negotiate the different assumptions and commitments of each group. Participants in each group were seen to have relevant knowledge and understandings and efforts were made to expand collective perceptions, which were not set apart between academics and non-academics.
This particular project supported scientific understandings of flood hydrology via the creation of fresh models and the compilation of qualitative insights and experiences of flooding. In addition to this, the project also helped to overcome an impasse in the management of floods in Pickering by reconfiguring the relationship between scientific experts and local residents. Previously, no decision had been made to combat the appropriate use of resources for flood risk management. Both of these opposing citizen science projects help to showcase the wide variety of methods in which non-scientists can involve themselves in important research projects.
[Find more weather-related citizen science projects using SciStarter's Project Finder.]
Thames Water Solution
In order to reduce the risk of sewer flooding in the future, water companies need to reduce the amount of rainwater entering the sewer network. Additional capacity and some new sewer systems would also largely help the situation too. Thames Water has already put some processes in place in many areas, such as installing new sensing devices to record water flow. This equipment has already proved helpful and allows the company to respond quickly to changes in weather and ground conditions. Thames Water also aims to spend up to £350million on a major programme of improvements before the year 2015, which includes:
- A new storm relief sewer to be installed across the catchment area;
- Enhancements to be made to the existing network;
- A sustainable drainage system (SuDS) scheme;
- Targeted installation of more anti-flood (FLIP) devices.
These plans were submitted to their regulator, Ofwat, with the aim of enhancing the sewerage network in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. All decisions and improvements made must be based on accurate data and balanced against the need for new investment, careful management and community education. Accurate instrumentation and monitoring can help to achieve this data; so I suppose the saying should go: if you look after your monitors, they will look after you!
Image: Wikimedia (Thames flood level markers at Trinity Hospital, Greenwich. The marker on the right is for 1928)
Hayden Hill is an environmental expert and an editorial coordinator for ATi-UK. He believes that before the torrential flooding in 2012, monitoring devices were not being instrumented or managed properly. With the introduction of newer, more efficient systems, Ian believes that UK water companies will have a clearer indication of potential flood risks before they actually materialise.
Citizen Science in the Classroom and the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network
NOAA National Ocean Service Phytoplankton Monitoring Network Citizen Science Project to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards
1st-12th (*see notes below about elementary grades)
The Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN) is hosted through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). This project is a part of the REDM or Regional Ecosystem Data Management system, which establishes and catalogs regional data about ecosystem health. Phytoplankton is the base of the food web, it provides over ½ our oxygen, and is the foundation for life in the oceans. Too much plankton can cause harmful algal blooms (HAB) and poisoning of shellfish as well as low oxygen in marine waters. Researchers with PMN are focused on monitoring native and invasive populations of phytoplankton in coastal US waters as well as tracking HABs. You do not have to be a plankton expert for this project. The researchers will provide you with ID support, a phytoplankton image gallery, and a plankton ID app for your smart phones.
This citizen science project is a bit different than others that we’ve talked about because it is region specific. To participate you must live along coastal waterways with water that has a salinity of at least 10-15 ppt (parts per thousand). The other difference in this project is that it requires two trainings (of a teacher or class) online or in person (about 4 hours total time) and you must commit to taking and observing water samples two times a week (5-10 minutes each) for a year. Time will also need to be allocated for students to process the samples. This could range from 2 hours to 20 minutes depending on the sample and how fast the students become in their IDs. The project could be broken up by class or shared with other teachers and volunteers.
*This citizen science activity tends to lend itself towards middle to high school classes; however, it can easily be approached as a platform for early education. In the standards section below there are some ideas for elementary students and activities they may do to participate in conjunction with middle to high school grades that could do the actual sampling and ID processing.
Materials You’ll Need:
- Live in an area with access to water that has 10-15 ppt salinity. If you’re not sure of your water’s salinity PMN staff will send you a hydrometer, and instructions, for measuring this.
- Computer access with printer.
- Online access and ability to upload data.
- All materials are provided by PMN except a rope and a compound microscope with 200-400x magnification.
- Materials provided by PMN include a plankton net, data sheets, and water testing equipment.
- Clipboards and pencils for data collection.
Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:
- Even though there is a one year time commitment this project could lend itself to students feeling a sense of ownership through a meaningful long term project.
- This may be used as a service or research project for volunteer hours for students needing community service.
- Almost all of the materials for the project are supplied by the PMN.
- Phytoplankton monitoring also includes water analysis, which may be used as supplemental water chemistry lessons; this includes pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen and more.
The down-side to the project is that they do not provide pre-made lesson plans. They do provide volunteer training, plankton identification training, a plankton ID app for smart phones, and a beautiful phytoplankton photo gallery online as well as pre-made data collection sheets. Because of this lack of teaching materials I will be referencing outside teaching resources that you may want to consider. This includes the books: “Sea Soup: Phytoplankton” and “SeaSoup: Zooplankton” by Mary M. Cerullo and Bill Curtsinger. The Center for Microbial Oceanography (CMO) has assembled a 70 page lesson plan for 3rd-12th grade that is very comprehensive, especially for those that don’t have enough microscopes for all students. UCLA has published a short set of plankton lesson plans, to meet NGSS standards, for grades 4-12. You can also find a plankton sampling lesson through the New Jersey Marine Science Center Consortium (grades 4-12).
Online Safety for Children
For this project you will need to submit a form for your sampling site to become an official location. This does require public sharing of your school/site’s address and the contact information of at least one representative. Students do not need to create their own account. Only one account for data uploading is required and this may be done through the teacher. However, multiple teachers or volunteers may access the account to upload information.
Common Core and Next Gen. Standards Met:
Next. Gen. Science: 1-LS3-1 Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that young plants and animals are like, but not exactly like their parents. Using the lesson plan from UCLA teachers may have students sort plankton by phyto and zoo and then discuss how they differ from land and plant animals. Student may also then compare the larval life cycle phase of the zooplankton to adults. Resources with pictures of adult and larval plankton are also in the CMO Lesson 3. If students are observing plankton under the microscopes they may also make the comparisons mentioned above. The image gallery provided by the PMN would be helpful for ID, including freshwater algae.
The story of a nuclear disaster and what can do you as a citizen scientist to help assess the residual aftermath.
[In the news - KQED Science recently spoke to project organizer Ken Buessler about the radiation in our ocean.]
Three years ago on March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami shook Japan. The loss of power that ensued eventually led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant overheating. Four out of six reactors suffered meltdowns, spitting radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and directly into the ocean. 19,000 people died or went missing.
Almost immediately, the news ignited fears of how this would impact marine ecosystem and human health over time. Today, three years later, there is still no U.S. government agency monitoring the spread of radiation from Fukushima along the west coast or Hawaiian Islands.
In reaction to this, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the Center of Marine and Environmental radiation (CMER) are providing the equipment and the facilities to track the spread of radionuclides across the Pacific Ocean. Even further—they’re opening this process up to the public, to you.
How Radioactive is Our Ocean?(official site)is a citizen science project that allows the public to propose sampling locations, raise the cost for testing and shipping of the supplies ($500-600), take samples and analyze 20 liters (about 5 gallons) of seawater for signs of radiation (cesium-137 isotopes) from Fukushima. Everything is provided by WHOI and CMER. There are three main ways that you can participate:
- Help the project reach their goal by donating to sample an existing site. Click “HELP FUND A LOCATION” on the main page and choose to support one of the many sites that are underway;
- Propose a new sampling site. Click “PROPOSE A LOCATION” and see what is involved. If accepted(we are trying to get spread of locations up/down coast), we ask for a donation of $100 and we’ll set up a fundraising webpage, add that page to our website, and send you a sampling kit once your goal of $550 to $600 has been reached.
- Donate to general capacity building and public education activities at CMER.
Here’s a video showing how you would take samples from locations near you:
How is radioactivity measured in the ocean?
“We live in a sea of radioactivity,” says Ken Buesseler, marine chemist at the WHOI. “The danger is in the dose.” Buesseler spent the bulk of his career studying oceanography and the spread of radionuclides from Chernobyl in the Black Sea. He goes on to explain:
The unit to describe the level of radiation in seawater samples is the Becquerel (Bq), which equals the number of radioactive decay events per second. This number is reported per cubic meter (i.e. 1,000 liters or 264 gallons) of water.
A typical water sample will likely contain less than 10 Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3) from cesium-137. The amount of cesium-137 that leaked into the water as a result of Fukushima was in the penta-Becquerels (that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000 Becquerels). By comparing the amount of cesium-137, which has a relatively long 30-year half life, and cesium-134, which has a much shorter, 2-year half life, scientists can “fingerprint” the contamination from Fukushima and estimate how much was released into the Pacific.
Is that much radiation significant?
The world’s oceans contain many naturally occurring radioactive isotopes like potassium-40, which comes from the erosion and breakdown of rocks. Bananas, known for their potassium content, release about 15 Bq on average. That means that the radiation leakage was about the same as that of 76 million bananas, to put things in perspective. This is actually around and about (perhaps a little over) the amount of radiation Fukushima was allowed to dump into the environment before the disaster. However, WHOI and CMER still make the case that it would be important to monitor and track cesium-137 and cesium-134 levels in the ocean, given future projection.
How are marine species affected?
Because the cesium-137 isotope is soluble, it mixes well with ocean currents. “The spread of cesium once it enters the ocean can be understood by the analogy of mixing cream into coffee,” writes Buesseler. “At first, they are separate and distinguishable, but just as we start to stir the cream forms long, narrow filaments or streaks in the water.” After they form streaks, they blend in and are diluted (think about how coffee turns into a lighter color after you add cream).
Fish and other forms of marine life can take it up and excrete it, depositing it in the sediment below. The marine life most contaminated with Fukushima radiation is found nearest to the reactor, but some species, like Bluefin tuna, are far-ranging and even migrate across the Pacific. When these animals leave the Northeast coast of Japan, some isotopes remain in their body, but others, like cesium-137 and cesium-134, naturally flush out of their system.
If you’re interested in proposing a sampling location to help the WHOI and CMER study the distribution of radionuclides in the Pacific, get started with the project or help spread the word about it!
Image: EPA, ourradioactiveocean.org
Goodman, Amy. “Fukushima is an ongoing warning to the world on nuclear energy.” The Guardian. 16 January 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/16/fukushima-is-a-warning
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Leak: What You Should Know
CMER public education links, such as ABCs of radioactivity
Lily Bui is the Executive Editor of SciStarter and holds dual degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She currently works in public media at the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Cambridge, MA. Previously, she helped produce the radio show Re:sound for the Third Coast International Audio Festival, out of WBEZ Chicago. In past lives, she has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.
Public Lab’s DIY spectrometry kit makes it possible for citizen scientists to do their own spectrometric analysis at home.
Come to your senses! SciStarter has curated a list of citizen science projects for all five senses.
Spectrometry. Listen to yourself say it out loud. Admit it. It sounds cool just to say “spectrometry.”(Whoa you just did it again!) As fans of Star Trek or Star Wars will attest to, spectrometers are must-have instruments in the scientific arsenal. I’m happy to let you know, however, that the use of a spectrometer (a.k.a ‘spec’) is not limited to fictional, futuristic worlds. In fact, from discovering new chemical elements to measuring DNA, spectrometry is a technique that’s dipped its toes in almost every field of research.
What’s all the fuss about a spectrometer?
Before I talk to you about a spectrometer, let me get into a little bit about the properties of light. You might know that objects appear a certain color because they absorb certain wavelengths of light while reflecting others. For example, leaves appear green because they absorb other colors except green. So if you took some leaf extract in a glass tube and passed light through it on one side, the light that comes out of the other side will have lots of green and little of the other colors (because they were absorbed by the leaf extract).
Put on your scientist hat (or a lab coat) and think about that for a moment. You’ll probably say, “Hey! If I can figure out what specific mix of colors a known substance is made of then I can use that to find out what an unknown substance is made of!” And put simply, that’s what a spec does. It’s an instrument that uses light to determine what a substance is made of.
A spec identifies the specific mix of colors that is absorbed by a sample producing what is known as an ‘absorption spectra‘ which is characteristic of that sample. Think of it like a fingerprint for every material. To do this accurately, the spec needs something that can effectively split light into its constituent colors. One option is to use a prism, which you’ve probably seen at some point. Another way is to use a ‘diffraction grating’ which is a surface with many small parallel lines that can also do the same job of splitting light.
One cool everyday object that acts as a diffraction grating is a CD or DVD. The tiny grooves on the disc act like a grating and split white light giving off the rainbow of colors that you see on its back side. The Public Lab DIY spec uses a DVD as a diffraction grating. The image below describes how a simple DIY spec works. And that’s the Cliffs Notes version. Public Lab’s spectrometer curriculum has lots more detail!
The Public Lab DIY Spectrometer
Our friends over at Public Lab have made it possible for you to do your own spectrometric analysis at home! When it started, the goal of the project was to create a cheap, do-it-yourself spectrometer that anybody could use to analyze materials and contaminants like oil spills and tar residues in urban waterways. In 2012, the team came up with an idea for a spec and crowd-funded it on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter project was a massive success and now Public Lab is selling the DIY desktop kit for $40 in its online store. However, if you prefer to build it from the materials you have at home, they have a great instruction manual for how to make it yourself.
They have also made a smartphone compatible Foldable Mini Spectrometer ($10 in the store) that you can carry around (and show off!). To be able to actually use the spec, the team at PublicLab built an open source software called Spectral Workbench that runs within your browser to help you record and analyze the data you collect. Whether you buy the kit or build it yourself, the Public Lab community has a wiki style page that is a great information resource.
To make it easier to get started, I’ve put together a plan to get you started with making and using your shiny new instrument:
Images: PublicLab.org, Wikipedia
Arvind Sureh graduated with his MS in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology from the University of Pittsburgh. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from PSG College of Technology, India. He is also an information addict, gobbling up everything he can find on and off the internet. He enjoys reading, teaching, talking and writing science, and following that interest led him to SciStarter. Outside the lab and the classroom, he can be found behind the viewfinder of his camera. Connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn or at his Website.
Public Lab announces RIFFLE, a new pilot program and open sensor tool to monitor water quality of Mystic River in Massachusetts.
By definition, a riffle is a “short, relatively shallow and coarse-bedded length of stream over which the stream flows at higher velocity and higher turbulence than it normally does in comparison to a pool.” Similarly, Public Lab is making waves in the DIY and hacker community when it comes to creating tools for environmental exploration and investigation.
Last weekend, I attended a Public Lab “toolshed raising” event in Somerville, MA, wherein local community members come to learn more about the organization, get a demo of their current tools, and work together on projects. There, the Public Lab team announced RIFFLE (Remote Independent Friendly Field-Logger Electronics) (support it here), a new pilot program and tool to monitor the water quality in Mystic River. I’m constantly impressed by the tools they develop (including a DIY spectrometry kit, balloon mapping kit, and modified infrared camera), which all follow the same credo: they are low cost, open source, and easy to build/maintain. At the event, Ben Gamari, one of the RIFFLE developers, expressed the core philosophy of making these tools accessible: “It has to just work.”
The Mystic River in Massachusetts flows from the Mystic Lakes in Winchester and Arlington, through Medford, Somerville (where I live!), Everett, Charlestown and Chelsea, and into Boston Harbor. Though it’s gorgeous to look at and take long runs next to, the Mystic faces serious water quality problems: pollution from leaky sewer pipes, waste disposal sites; excessive nutrients and discharges of raw sewage; fuel hydrocarbons; and road salt. Its Alewife Brook subwatershed is reportedly one of the most contaminated water bodies in Boston, failing to meet state bacteria standards for swimming and boating. Beyond that, the Mystic River watershed received a ‘D’ from the US EPA on its 2012 water quality report card.
Here’s the challenge. Although several organizations monitor the Mystic, the data are not widely available to the public, nor is current technology available or affordable enough for people to take part in the process.
The main focus of RIFFLE is developing open hardware alternatives–sensors that you can build at home and use to measure trends (and deviations from them) in temperature, conductivity, and water depth. Ideally, this will enable the local community near the Mystic to assess threats to water quality like industrial pollution, coliform bacteria, road salt, and agriculture runoff.
RIFFLE is still in its prototype phase, so some more testing and calibration are in its immediate future as well as a distribution strategy; some possible telemetry mods; even considerations to adapt it for STE(A)M–science, technology, engineering, art, and math.
In addition to the actual sensor, Public Lab is developing free, open-source software (accessible offline) for downloading the sensor data to a laptop, as well an open, online platform onto which citizen scientists can upload and share the water quality data that they collect. The plan is for the online platform itself to multitask as a field log, data repository, and community forum.
Imagine–if the water source that you lived by seemed dangerous, and if you and your neighbors had more awareness of the water quality trend in your backyard (whether figuratively or literally), you or they might take action, change your routines, petition for better water quality monitoring, or even move. Using RIFFLE to monitor water quality along the Mystic exemplifies how the citizen science community can rally together in reaction to a local concern. This DIY, crowdsourced approach benefits researchers, water resource managers, and citizen scientists alike.
If you’re in Massachusetts anywhere near the Mystic, get involved. If you’re not in the area, there are other ways to support the project, not mention many other opportunities to participate in water monitoring projects.
Let’s make waves–together.
Images: Public Lab (top), Lily Bui
Lily Bui is the Executive Editor of SciStarter and holds dual degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She currently works in public media at WGBH-TV and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Boston, MA. Previously, she helped produce the radio show Re:sound for the Third Coast International Audio Festival, out of WBEZ Chicago. In past lives, she has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.