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Indiana University-Purdue University - Interactive Community Computer Simulation to Restore Watersheds

11/2/2010 12:40:01 PM

INDIANAPOLIS – Researchers from the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis have received a $410,000, three-year award from the National Science Foundation to study and improve watershed management practices. The federal grant supports the design and deployment of an interactive computer simulation framework that will enable those who live or work in watershed regions to be part of a collaborative restoration of the ecological balance disrupted by agricultural development, deforestation, urbanization and residential development.

The IUPUI scientists plan to demonstrate the usefulness of their approach in the 162-square-mile Eagle Creek Watershed, located northwest of Indianapolis. However, their concepts and tools are intended to be applicable to other locations for improving flooding problems, water quality issues, and soil conditions. Their work also could be used to overcome other environmental problems such as carbon emissions or erosion.

"Watershed Restoration Using Spatial-Temporal Optimization of Resources" (WRESTORE) addresses the immense complexity of the problem of altered ecology in wetlands. Because feedback from farmers, homeowners and others who occupy the area is incorporated in both the design of the computer tool and subsequent implementation, it increases the acceptability of possible solutions.

"Making people part of the process is important for sustainable remedies. We are using complex hydrologic computation models with a specially designed user interface and computational optimization methods that will allow community members to see the effect over time and evaluate the consequences of different choices they can make", said Snehasis Mukhopadhyay, Ph.D., professor of computer and information science, co-principal investigator of the new NSF grant.

Much of the underlying data and environmental models are being developed by environmental scientist Meghna Babbar-Sebens, Ph.D., assistant professor of earth sciences and principal investigator on the new NSF grant.

"Individuals will be able to go online and, not too differently from those who play popular computer games like The Sims, homeowners, farmers and others from the area will be able to simulate construction of various water management alternatives –drainage ponds, wetlands, bioswales or other options – in their local lands and see the impacts of their choices at different locations, and in the short-term or the long-term."

"Those whose livelihood depends on agriculture have very different issues -- water for crops and livestock, fertilizer and pesticide run-off -- than those who reside in apartment complexes, but decisions made by one group impacts the other. Those who live downstream may have a different perspective than those who reside upstream. Ultimately, what each person does may have social, economic and environmental impact on those living anywhere in the watershed and downstream of the watershed," she said.

Previously, Mukhopadhyay and Babbar-Sebens collaborated on computational approaches for design of ground water monitoring networks. This new NSF award supports their watershed management work through September 2013.

Media contact: Cindy Fox Aisen 317-274-7722

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