Visualizing Our Waters

By Dustin Renwick

“Data mining” conjures images of someone clanking away with a pick-axe at a mountain of 1s and 0s. But the sentiment isn’t far off. Heaps of data are useless without understanding the relevance and context within the larger picture.

Graphic showing swirling water with  words "Visualizing Nutrients" belowNutrient pollution is one the most expensive problems associated with aquatic environments. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus in water affects human health and the sustainability of ecosystems. Green water means increased risks for harmful algal blooms, hypoxia, and other nutrient-related water quality issues.

To help provide a clearer picture of this problem, 29 teams are now developing and testing affordable, real-time technologies for measuring nitrogen and phosphorus in water as part of our Nutrient Sensor Challenge. Yet those sensors will produce more data, ever increasing our need to make the numbers understandable to a larger audience beyond the scientists who study the measurements.

Today, with the U.S. Geological Survey and Blue Legacy International (a nonprofit focused on water), EPA launched Visualizing Nutrients. This innovation competition includes $15,000 in cash prizes.

We want talented designers, coders, data scientists, sensor experts, and anyone interested in complex problems to analyze and organize existing nitrogen and phosphorus water pollution data.

The best submissions will transform publicly available, open government data sets into dynamic visual representations that reveal insights, trends, and relationships. First Place will take home $10,000 and a People’s Choice Award will win $5,000.

Visit the competition website to submit a solution. The deadline is 11:59 p.m. on June 8, 2015.

This is one of many efforts by the broader Challenging Nutrients Coalition to bring innovative ideas and solutions to bear on the problem of nutrient pollution. The group consists of federal agencies, universities, and nonprofits.

About the Author: Dustin Renwick works in conjunction with the Innovation Team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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