27 January 2011

JHU Global Water Program, Seminar Series to begin 1 Feb.

For my many friends in the Baltimore/Washington area (and others with interest in the goings-on around there), this announcement just appeared regarding the beginning of the Spring Seminar Series for the Global Water Program at Johns Hopkins University, to begin 1 February 2011. The Seminar Series is now named for the late M. Gordon "Reds" Wolman, a second-generation Professor of Hydrology in the JHU GWP who passed away in 2010.  JHU also hosts the School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS), which released that great issue of their magazine SAISphere on water issues in 2009.  Both the GWP and SAIS programs are affiliated with think-tank groups in the DC area including the Project on Global Water Policy, formerly the Global Water Futures Program, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), on all of which I have written previously.



The Spring 2011 M. Gordon Wolman Seminar Series Starts Tuesday, Feb. 1

Prof. Benito Mariñas will speak at the first Tuesday seminar of the Spring 2011 semester on "Science and Technology Advances for Safe Global Water." This talk will take place this Tuesday, Feb 1, 2011 at 3:00 p.m., with a reception sponsored by the Global Water Program to follow.

The Millennium Development Goal Target of reducing by half the portion of people without sustainable access to safe water supply and effective sanitation by 2015 will not be achieved at the current rate of progress. More than 800 million people will not have access to "improved" water supply, and 2.4 billion people will lack adequate sanitation. Lack of access to "safe" water is a global challenge requiring the development of revolutionary technologies, and the creation of human resources capacity to scale-up and operate the technologies sustainably. This challenge can be addressed with revolutionary advances in water quality technology and related fundamental science, and the development of sustainable, systems capable of producing affordable, robust and reliable supply of safe drinking water to impoverished people worldwide. Such systems could integrate novel sensors that detect infective pathogens, robust treatment processes that destruct and/or remove these contaminants without producing toxic by-products. These developments should be paralleled by building the capacity of human resources, developing microeconomic infrastructure, and facilitating acceptance by society.

About the speaker:

Dr. Mariñas is Ivan Racheff Professor of Environmental Engineering and past Chair of the Environmental Engineering and Science Program, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Dr. Mariñas has taught graduate and undergraduate courses covering fundamental, laboratory experimentation, and design aspects of environmental engineering and science. His research explores mechanistic aspects of chemical and ultraviolet light disinfection processes, chemistry of nitrogenous disinfection by-product formation and control, and membrane technologies for controlling water-borne pathogens and chemical contaminants. He is serving as Associate Director for Water and Health Research in the NSF Science and Technology Center of Advanced Materials for the Purification of Water with Systems (WaterCAMPWS).

Dr. Mariñas holds a BS in civil engineering from the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Spain (1982); and MS (1985) and PhD (1989) degrees in sanitary and environmental engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. From 1989 until 1995, he was a faculty member at the School of Civil Engineering of Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Dr. Mariñas was the recipient of the Arthur and Virginia Nauman Faculty Scholar award (1998-2005) at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of UIUC. His other honors include the Harold Munson Outstanding Teacher Award (1992), and Ross Judson Buck '07 Outstanding Counselor Award (1992) from the School of Civil Engineering at Purdue University, making the University of Illinois’ Incomplete List of Outstanding Instructors six times, and serving as co-advisor of Dr. Qilin Li, recipient of the 2003 Parsons Engineering Science Doctoral Thesis Award from the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors, and Dr. Lance Schideman, recipient of the 2007 Second Place Doctoral Dissertation Academic Achievement Award from the American Water Works Association.

20 January 2011

Rant no. 2 of 3: the Challenge Answer

From my long rant in three parts a few weeks ago, which were some of my most productive and creative several days ever by the way, part 2 issued a challenge based on a science- and president-bashing Slate journalist's apparent misinterpretation of President Obama's recent appearance on the Discovery Channel series MythBusters:
"Obama tasks the Mythbusters to take a stab, their second, at reconstructing Archimedes' heat ray, supposedly an array of bronze shields or perhaps mirrors that, reflecting and concentrating sunlight, incinerated approaching ships during the Siege of Syracuse.  Why did the White House and Discovery pick this myth to re-bust?  Is there a metaphor about national security in there?  A parable of collectivism?  Is this the light of the unum out of the pluribus?  Does the Pentagon think this technology might have practical applications?  Such questions do not trouble the lively minds of our likable hosts..."
Conceptual diagram of
Archimedes' Heat Ray configuration,
from Wikimedia Commons.
I issued a challenge to the journalist, as well as my readers, to identify the practical significance of such a technology as Archimedes' Heat Ray, something big enough for the President to ask to see it again.  I gave three clues, for good measure:
  1. It's not a parable, or the one that arises from our many, or any other sort of metaphor;
  2. It does have national security implications, if only by collective association with other such technologies;
  3. It does have practical applications--the technology is, in fact, already in use--but not yet (overtly) for the Department of Defense
I even offered a prize for the first correct answer, from anyone who chose to write in a comment on this blog post.  Alas, no comments or answers from readers, so the prize will wait.  Just so that you know, there is a prize...appropriately enough, it's water.  Bottled water, from Mexico.  It just struck me as very curious and ironic when it was given to me at a meeting, my first visit south of the border in Nogales while I was working at the University of Arizona.  I guess you could say it has its own little story, and so it's something I've kept around, but that story is for a time when I pass it on to someone else.  It just struck me as odd that Mexico gets beat on so mercilessly for the quality of its drinking water, and here they have bottled it for consumption at a time when studies in the U.S. have shown that bottled water is little different in quality from tap water, in fact is tap water in some cases...

So, I say that the Slate story was an "apparent" misinterpretation because the story of President Obama's planned appearance on the show was also picked up by the New York Times, albeit in their "Caucus" blog on politics and government, where it was not necessarily dismissed so impetuously except by nearly 30 commenters on that story, none of whom took the opportunity to ask or answer "Why?"  When a story in a political blog from one of the most well-read news outlets in the world gets so (relatively) little response to something so potentially meaningful, I'm not surprised my challenge here went unanswered.  I would be surprised if the White House, the President's Science Adviser, and the President's Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP) all did not know how useful this suggestion for MythBusters really was, so the question then comes to "Who suggested this to the President, and why?"  Actually, I wrote to the OSTP to ask that very question right after I posted my rant, but have not received any response.  It's too bad, because all I wanted to do was confirm that someone in that office had the same reason for the demonstration that I present here...

Journalists and commenters have also brought up that Mythbusters declared the "myth" of Archimedes heat ray "busted" in 2006 because it took simply too long for the concentrated sunlight to set a wooden target afire; if it doesn't work very quickly today, with our modern know-how, how could it possibly have worked more than 2300 years ago to save Syracuse from a naval siege?  The thing is, though the actual use of the method by Archimedes in Syracuse may remain in some doubt for lack of surviving historical accounts, the efficacy of the method has been proven more than once and in most cases long before the MythBusters ever heard of it.

So, in context, there were even more clues than the three that I provided explicitly.  From my own story, first, I write a water-oriented blog, so the solution must have something to do with that.  Second, I explicitly mentioned in the third clue that the technology was not necessarily of use to the Department of Defense, as suggested by the journalist, but that it was indeed already in use elsewhere.  Perhaps there is another U.S. cabinet-level Department of Something that recognizes the utility of this technology?  Archimedes' Heat Ray was an energy-based technology, albeit with a distinctly military application at the time.  Perhaps the Department of Energy thinks some combination of the persistent supply of solar energy striking the Earth, along with the water and other elements we have lying around here on Earth, could result in something useful...

Solar power is mostly clean, mostly renewable, and comes in a couple of flavors.  Photovoltaic (PV) cells convert solar energy to electricity through the photovoltaic effect on specially-designed electronic chips exposed to sunlight.  It takes quite a bit of water to make those chips, sure, but the installed solar panels require no more water than in the cleaning solution that is used to wash the protective windows covering the chips.  PV is a pure solar-electric power source.

The Planta Solar 10 power plant in Spain, from Wikimedia
Commons.  Light rays converging on the tower are visible
because of atmospheric dust; the obscured side of the
tower receives the brightness of hundreds of Suns.
Concentrated solar power (CSP) is, instead, a solar-thermal power source and has several forms, but the structural configuration is based on the same principle of Archimedes' "heat ray."  In fact, the Wikipedia entry on CSP calls out this connection explicitly:
"A legend has it that Archimedes used a 'burning glass' to concentrate sunlight on the invading Roman fleet and repel them from Syracuse. In 1973 a Greek scientist, Dr. Ioannis Sakkas, curious about whether Archimedes could really have destroyed the Roman fleet in 212 BC lined up nearly 60 Greek sailors, each holding an oblong mirror tipped to catch the Sun's rays and direct them at a tar-covered plywood silhouette 160 feet away. The ship caught fire after a few minutes; however, historians continue to doubt the Archimedes story."
There are several methods for energy generation and cooling in CSP: steam recirculation, molten salt recirculation, Stirling engine, and hybrids including CPV (concentrated photovoltaic).  Some CSP plants also use natural gas to drive their turbines when electricity demand remains high at night and there's no solar power in the system, though advances in battery technology will probably change that soon.

The Planta Solar 10 (left) and Solar 20 (right) power plants
in Spain, from Wikimedia Commons.
Of the more picturesque and established CSP plants, the Planta Solar 10 (PS10) and its neighbor PS20 in southern Spain, with 11MW and 20MW capacities respectively, accumulate heat as steam in pressurized tanks for recycling through a turbine system.  Here lies the key when determining whether solar power generation really does draw on water resources: if the cooling cycle is an open system, which really only applies to water-based systems (since an open vat of molten salt is not likely very safe), then the steam that drives the turbines that generate the electricity subsequently escapes into the atmosphere.  This is the same kind of cooling system that we see at many nuclear power plants: the white steam escaping from a nuclear cooling tower is the exhaust of an open cooling system, and consumes a huge quantity of water.  For several reasons, including their water footprint, many nuclear plants are switching to closed-cycle cooling just like those recirculation systems available for CSP mentioned above.  Even if the closed system is water-based, it still uses only a fraction of the water consumed and "lost" by an open system for a comparable power plant.  According to a report published in the Fall 2007 issue of Southwest Hydrology on the water costs for various traditional and alternative power generation methods now in use in California (pdf), CSP ranks among the lightest on water use.

It's certainly possible that the President and the OSTP had no reason at all to ask for this "myth" to be busted again, Slate's commentary notwithstanding.  Nevertheless, Archimedes' Heat Ray remains an accurate and useful (and fun) demonstration of the origin of a water-light alternative energy technology in use today...

11 January 2011

Statement of Interest, Declaration of Purpose

A short time ago I posted a statement from the EOS Institute at the University of New Hampshire calling for applications to an available Ph.D. program in Water, Sustainability and Climate funded by the National Science Foundation. The student's program would be focused primarily on water resources and related societal issues in Central, South, East, and Southeast Asia. Readers of this blog have seen some of my interest in that very region, the Himalaya and its environs and so much of the global population located downhill and downstream: I've posted about water issues in ethnic Kurdistan, war-torn Iraq, and the Indus basin in disputed Kashmir and troubled Pakistan.  I've started a series on what I see as a "tri-axis" in South and East Asia that will affect the balance of power in the region, and the world, for generations to come.

These, and many other topics that I have not yet covered here, are what I believe to be some of the defining policy issues in water resource management and allocation, and thus hydrologic sciences, in the coming decades. I feel strongly that the American community of academics and professionals, with all of our knowledge and strengths in responsible governance of natural resources, and through our understanding of and innovation in Earth system sciences, has emerged with a responsibility for the beneficial export of that leadership as a vital element of U.S. foreign policy. At the same time, there is a global pool of expertise from which we Americans ought to be learning, if not already in the academic community then also in commercial and industrial practices. If more people at the level of policy-making would just recognize that we are not the only country in the world, that we need not re-invent the (water) wheel in many cases, and that civilizations elsewhere have been around a lot longer than America has even approached, there is so much that we can accomplish collaboratively and collectively. The transfer of knowledge on water resources and its constituent and related sciences are not controversial export issues, like the responsible use of defense weapons or nuclear power, or even the proprietary industrial and commercial technology that keeps America among the top economies in the world. These are scientific and engineering innovations oriented on the survivability of peoples and the sustainability of resources, economies and countries.

So, it was in this spirit that I submitted my application for the Ph.D. program at UNH. I haven't heard from the program sponsors yet, and the deadline for admission is fast approaching, and in the meantime I'm just bursting with the desire to get some of my letter of interest out here into the world so that more of you, my dear readers, can know where some of my interests are oriented. I won't bore you with academic background right now--some of those tales are worthy of posts of their own anyway. We'll jump to my first "real job" after my M.S. programs:
These programs were followed by four years as a Research Associate in the Hydrological Sciences Branch at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where I contributed to distributed land surface modeling (LSM) projects that combined physically-based hydrologic- and energy-balance processes in natural settings at a variety of spatial scales. I developed tools and methods for spatial interpolation of precipitation observations, which contributed to some advancement in LSM applications and produced my first peer-reviewed publication in a major journal. That effort is now a software application that I continue to work on as a test-bed for several ideas on the spatiotemporal representation of precipitation events. For a collaborative project with NCAR scientists, I developed runoff accumulation methods for stream routing simulation, helping to transform the traditional application of LSMs as 1-D cells over a simulation area to a quasi-3-D system with a stream network, from which flow estimates could be compared with gauge records. One of my career goals remains to develop and demonstrate the potential accuracy and utility of a comprehensive hydrologic and hydraulic river basin model using such physical and distributed modeling structures with which I had the opportunity to work then.
I've dubbed that application "MIST," a Module for Interpolation in Space and Time, also in partial reference to rainfall as my preferred subject of interpolation. It is admittedly a very touchy-feely subject to approach, the interpretation of precipitation, its behavior in space and time, but that's exactly where much of my background in Atmospheric Science comes in. I'll explain more about it later, and for now just say that it provided the basis for my first publication as first-author while I was at GSFC, that it worked as designed and showed us many new possibilities, and that I'm still eager to add and improve on what is already built. I'd say it currently stands at v1.4, and I have the upgrade concepts planned out through v4 or so...
While at GSFC I was also involved in collaborative planning efforts for model development and improvement between NASA, NCAR, NOAA NCEP and the Air Force Weather Agency in order to address issues in the modernization of AFWA forecasting and applications projects. Though AFWA provides global observational analyses and forecasts to the military, their principal external customer is actually the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service. Though interaction with investigators there, I developed a keen interest in the elements of FAS forecast activities and assistance efforts, in conjunction with USAID, in regions such as central and southern Asia that have remained of heightened national interest. It was primarily to ponder and address such interests, outside of my normal work duties, that I started a weblog around that same time. Some of my earliest posts, including an article on ethnic Kurdistan, remain among the most-read entries on my blog.
Remember that I am applying to a graduate program that focuses on water issues in Asia, so the reference to my early post on Kurdistan was intended to be materially relevant to the demonstration of my interests. I also now have series started on water issues due to war and civil unrest in Iraq and in the interactions among nations in South Asia, including Pakistan, India and China, and their neighbors in Southeast Asia.
My principal AFWA collaborator while I was at NASA-GSFC has since moved to a position at the USACE Cold Regions Research and Environmental Laboratory in Hanover, NH. It was in preparation for my own interview for that very position, almost a year ago, that I began to bring many of my ideas into alignment regarding the importance of water resource and sustainability studies for the southern and eastern Asian continent. These ideas formed over some time and under various influences, including discussions with author and global strategist Thomas Barnett (in whose latest book I was acknowledged), colleagues in various agencies that I met through my work at NASA, and my growing interest in the activities of the American military, intelligence and foreign policy communities around conflicts with natural resource disputes at their core. Since that time, my interests and outspokenness have brought me into contact and conversation with many and more diverse people in science and policy that I might not have otherwise ever had the pleasure to know. I am not afraid of disagreement or opposition among colleagues, only of the ideas within our grasp that could help people but have foundered for lack of expression and realization.
As for my interview at USACE CRREL, I delivered a great presentation on my interests in cold regions that is a still to be shared on this blog. Overall, this part of my statement of interest forms the crux of my purpose: my work, my blog, my contacts with colleagues, my eagerness to continue in the face of doubt and opposition and simple apathy in various places. Some would say that my "outspokenness" is a mark against me, but I think just the opposite: not enough attention has been given to these topics, and now we have ways to address them coherently and comprehensively, and I can see a way forward through the tangle of information and methods and naysayers. With a better knowledge base, conflict is defused and cooperation can proceed. This is an essential aspect of the adaptation of our inner desires, our dreams and hopes for the way we wish the world to be, to the reality that each of us represents only a fraction of the collective intelligence we can bring to easing the burden that we have placed on our planet in an unconscious and often stumbling quest for true sustainability. That effort is not a race to the "zero-footprint" at which we might hope static balance will ensue, but rather a constant vigilance to observe, interpret, and maintain the dynamic balance of a complex system of which we are still in the infancy of understanding, and still at the point of preconception regarding control.
Over the past two years, I have served as the Project Manager for the Arizona Hydrologic Information System (AHIS) at the University of Arizona. Originally developed as a keystone project of the Arizona Water Institute, a consortium of the three state universities and three of the most prominent state agencies in Arizona, AHIS demonstrated the capability for aggregation and dissemination of water-related information to and from all users: the public, academia, state regulatory agencies, and policy-makers in government. The AHIS project adopted its geographic and informatics context in this period of leadership, aimed at developing new insight into water-related issues throughout the state by the combination of information resources in a map-based interface to facilitate correlation and causality in scientific investigation.
I've left out some of the material I provided regarding the end of that project, which I have covered to some detail here in my blog. I had fantastic partners across the state during my first year on the AHIS project, but the end of AWI was the end of funding for dedicated work on AHIS for most of them. My own position continued, but it was not as collaborative an effort as the first year.
AHIS is, at its essence, a small-scale example of the GWater (originally "Google Water") concept of information collection and organization that I once proposed to Google’s philanthropic division and recently published on my blog. This principle, that the spatial context provided by embedded information and analytical products in platforms such as ArcGIS and Google Maps/Earth are essential to the better understanding of local, regional, and international conflict over natural resources, has become an overarching theme of my work. The inherent capacity of a map as a medium, and the multi-dimensional content now available with the programmability of web-based tools such as Google Earth, is a revolution in the presentation and understanding of information and its interpretation by massive, diverse audiences and users. However, it remains the work of scientists like us, with our scales of interest and altitude of vision, to develop such information stores and improved, multidimensional and intrinsically functional analytical products while retaining an unforgiving eye for detail and a working knowledge of the underlying complexities of a combination of science and policy issues.
You see, lots of ideas have come together for me in the past couple years. GWater was an idea from my time at GSFC, but the opportunity to build some of it did not come until my time in Arizona. So then, I enter the denouement of my statement:
Shared natural resources, especially water, can develop as sources of conflict in times of scarcity and high demand. With sharing and use come risk and uncertainty: the quantity and quality of available water is so often at issue where countries and societies interact, where the people interface with their government within a country, and where a society interacts with its environment. Climate change will alter spatiotemporal patterns and magnitudes of heating and precipitation, and will thus have an impact on the reliability of water supplies, not least in the regions surrounding the Himalaya ranges. Of the most obvious changes in climate will be changes in the spatial and temporal distribution of glaciers and the patterns of precipitation and runoff generation leading to dynamic evolution in the depth and extent of permanent and seasonal snow cover, especially in mountainous regions, where previously reliable stores of water may disappear entirely.
It is basic climate science, the models for which we are constantly trying to improve and the results of which we are still attempting to interpret, that tells us that one of the greatest impacts of climate change in our lifetime will be on changes in the distribution of precipitation and evaporation, and hence on the quantity and availability of water resources. When we combine the solid foundation of knowledge on atmospheric dynamics that goes into climate modeling with the complexities of land and ocean, clouds and mountains, forests and deserts, one might consider the problem intractable. Not so, for the dedicated scientists with whom I have had the great pleasure to work over the years. Thus, a statement on my learning from those around me in the tools of observation and analysis in Earth sciences, and their application toward solving the problems at hand in hydrology and water resources:
With the sparse worldwide availability of suitable surface-based observations sites due to geographic, topographic, economic and political constraints, the overhead aspect provided by satellite remote sensing platforms is ideal for the supplemental (or sole) observation of precipitation in many parts of the world. In combination with gauge and radar networks of suitable configuration, satellite-derived precipitation fields provide an opportunity for the spatial distribution of relatively accurate “ground-truth” observations to less-monitored regions. However, biases and complications still exist in the retrieval of over-land precipitation with passive microwave sensors. With global climate change and its variable impacts on hydrometeorological conditions, examinations of retrieval performance in remote land areas of the global domain become more important. While progress is evident toward comprehensive precipitation retrieval algorithms for current (POES, TRMM) and upcoming remote sensing missions (GPM, NPOESS), more sophisticated methods using land surface models (LSMs) oriented on mass and energy balances may be possible. LSMs have their own inherent limitations, however quickly we continue to overcome those, and their combination with evolving remote sensing retrieval methods constitute a "wicked problem" in science whose solutions will directly affect our understanding of the hydrologic cycle as well as practical decision-making in applied water resource issues. I can think of few better places on the Earth to develop such comprehensive assessment capabilities than the areas of southern and eastern Asia, where billions of people can benefit from improved information availability and the potential for conflict abatement that such investigations can provide.
And finally, a summation in the most relevant terms:
Over time and with experience, I have acquired various levels of expertise in Earth sciences, weather and climate analysis, surface hydrology, programming and numerical modeling, remote sensing, geography, data collection and analysis, authoring for reports and publication, and information management for web-based visualization and dissemination. My interests span a range of scales, from detailed physical modeling of land surface hydrological processes, to the special and complex considerations of hydrometeorology in mountainous regions at the watershed and larger scales, to regional and global issues in hydrology and water resources. I am interested in the nexus of science, society, and policy where they meet to address the problems of water scarcity and allocation. With an inherently interdisciplinary approach, and always eager to learn about another aspect of how the water cycle works, I consider it my career work to investigate and explain how water science can make freshwater availability more sustainable in the context of this nexus and under the influences of land use and climate change.
Where from here? I'll let you know...

10 January 2011

Vacancy: Inaugural Director, California Water Resources Research Institute

Editor's Note: This opening was originally posted a while ago (1 December 2010), but the deadline for applications is still later this month (26 January 2011).  I would think this may be one of the most challenging jobs in water education and administration out there today, given the advanced bureaucratic and mixed economic state of water management in California...

Organization
California Water Resources Research Institute (CWRRI)
University of California System
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR)
Position
Director
Location
Oakland, California, U.S.A.
Duration
Indefinite
Closing Date
26 January 2011 (open until filled)
From the basic announcement:
We seek an inaugural director who can provide leadership and operational management for the California Water Resources Research Institute (CWRRI). CWRRI is a special program within UCANR, enabled by the federal Water Resources Research Act, with the mission of supporting research and extension activities that contribute to the efficient management of California’s water resources, in water quality, quantity and reliability.
From the full announcement (pdf):
Across California, the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR) is an engine for problem solving. Serving as the bridge between local issues and the power of UC research, our more than 300 campus-based specialists and county-based advisors work to bring practical, unbiased, science-based answers to Californians.

We seek a leader to who can bring together local, state and federal stakeholders to identify issues and sources of political and financial support for water-related research and who can organize and lead constituency based advisory boards.

We seek a skilled communicator who can serve as a key spokesperson on California water issues; working with federal, state, regional, nonprofit, and campus stakeholders to improve the understanding of water issues through advocacy and outreach programs.

We seek an innovative thinker who can build teams of faculty and outside collaborators to compete for grants at the federal and international levels.

We seek a collaborator who can promote interdisciplinary efforts in water resources education and research with UC campus based water centers, NIFA and other federal and state water programs, Cooperative Extension community-based water quality education programs, and the UCANR Strategic Initiative leaders.

We seek a visionary, who can implement ANR’s Strategic Vision, optimizing opportunities for conducting outstanding research and extension programs that meet the needs of Californians. For information about ANR, the rich breadth of program scope and delivery, and how we are making a difference in California, candidates are invited to visit our Web site.
Find more information, including requirements and application forms (doc and pdf), online at the UCANR Job Opportunity listing.  Good luck!

07 January 2011

USACE Developing National Wetland Plant List, Seeks Public Comments

A notice from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) appeared on 6 January 2011 in the Federal Register (76 FR 777) (pdf) announcing the establishment of a National Wetland Plant List (NWPL).  In summary,
"The National Wetland Plant List (NWPL) is used to delineate wetlands for purposes of the Clean Water Act and the Wetland Conservation Provisions of the Food Security Act. Other applications of the list include wetland restoration, establishment, and enhancement projects. To update the NWPL, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), as part of an interagency effort with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is announcing the availability of the draft National Wetland Plant List (NWPL) and its web address to solicit public comments. The public will now be provided the opportunity to comment and vote on the wetland indicator status ratings of the plants, species nomenclature changes and the revisions to the definition of indicator status ratings contained in the NWPL."
I've added links in order to annotate the summary text.  I might have waited until World Wetlands Day (2 February) to post this, but there is a limited period for the public to make comments that ends on 7 March 2011, and everyone with interest should have as much time as possible to submit their comments.  See the official USACE NWPL site to make your comment submissions.  If you see a security warning, click through it to get to the actual informational site.

The background on the NWPL effort that is provided in the Federal Register notice is fascinating, and even more information is available at the official site.  It's great to have that much historical background entered into the federal record in such a concise form, and kudos to the program contributors for preparing what is essentially a report on the history of this effort.  As an interagency collaborative program, this effort is almost as old as I am!  To wit:
"The effort to develop a comprehensive wetland plant list began with the FWS in 1976 and paralleled the development of their wetland classification system for the National Wetland Inventory (NWI), which culminated in Classification of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States [pdf] in 1979. A brief footnote in that publication mentions that the FWS intended to produce "a list of hydrophytes and other plants occurring in wetlands of the United States" for use in conjunction with the NWI. At about the same time the NRCS, then known as the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), initiated an effort to prepare a preliminary list of hydric soils, again for use with the NWI. Through a series of subsequent drafts, the FWS effort eventually led to the production of the National List of Plant Species That Occur in Wetlands: 1988 National Summary [pdf] (List 88)—and associated regional lists.

"The FWS initially derived the lists by searching some 300 national and regional floras and other scientific publications. This effort produced the Annotated National Wetland Plant Species Database, which documented the taxonomy, nomenclature, distribution, and ecology of wetland flora in the U.S. In 1987, the SCS (through a contract with the Biota of North America Program [BONAP]) updated the taxonomy and nomenclature that culminated in List 88. During the initial development of the database, a wetland rating system was created based on habitat descriptions derived from the various regional floras, botanical manuals, and other scientific works.

"In the early 1980s, the four primary Federal agencies involved in wetland delineation (Corps, EPA, FWS, and NRCS) realized the potential utility of the plant and soil lists for wetland delineation purposes in conjunction with wetland delineation manuals that were under development at that time. All wetland delineation manuals produced at the Federal level during the 1980s referenced these plant lists in defining hydrophytic vegetation.

"The four agencies agreed to participate cooperatively on Regional Interagency Review Panels. A National Panel of wetland ecologists was assembled to review and further revise the various plant lists and the wetland rating system established by the FWS. This rating system, based on the frequency that a particular plant occurs within wetlands versus uplands, eventually led to the five indicator categories listed in List 88 (i.e., obligate wetland, facultative wetland, facultative, facultative upland, and obligate upland).

"The FWS realized that subsequent editions of their List 88 would be inevitable and an appeal procedure was established for submitting proposed changes to the list (e.g. additions, deletions, and changes in indicator statuses). Since the original publication of List 88, many changes to the taxonomy and nomenclature of wetland plants have been proposed and accepted. Following the original publication of List 88, the FWS adopted a revised taxonomic standard, Synonymized Checklist of the Vascular Flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland (Kartesz 1994), as a basis for the names included within the proposed list, National List of Vascular Plant Species that Occur in Wetlands [pdf] (List 96).

"The National Panel and the FWS considered it necessary to respond to requests for changes to List 88 and to the numerous revisions in both taxonomy and nomenclature by proposing List 96 and its derivative regional lists. The FWS published proposed changes to List 88 in the Federal Register (62 FR 2680) on January 17, 1997 [note that the original mistakenly refers to the "CFR" or Code of Federal Regulations], in compliance with a 1996 Memorandum of Agreement between the Corps, EPA, FWS, and NRCS. The National Panel received comments and, in conjunction with the Regional Panels, reviewed and considered all comments in developing the final draft of List 96. For a variety of reasons, List 96 was never finalized, and List 88 remains the only approved list of wetland plant indicator statuses.

"In 2005, the FWS developed plans to update and adopt List 96 as List 05. This new List was to include all of the changes in scientific names and wetland indicator statuses that were needed because of taxonomic and nomenclatural changes; however, this update never occurred. In December 2006, the administration of the list was transferred from the FWS to the Corps through a Memorandum of Agreement [pdf], which renamed the list as the National Wetland Plant List. The list continues to be an interagency product maintained by the Corps, FWS, EPA, and NRCS. The National Panel consists of representatives from each of the four participating agencies who direct the continued development of the NWPL. They guide the work by updating the taxonomy and nomenclature along with wetland indicator statuses of wetland plants nationwide. The number of plants listed has changed since List 88; growing from 6,728 species to 7,662 in List 96, with the majority of the increase resulting from taxonomic and nomenclatural changes, including the addition of many infraspecific taxa (i.e., varieties and subspecies). By 2010, further advances in systematic science involving wetland plants resulted in an additional 1,600 infraspecific entries. Because of taxonomic and nomenclatural changes since 1988, the number of infraspecific taxa has increased to 2,200; substantially more than the original 12 in List 88 and 600 in List 96. Because this seemed to be an impractically high number of entries, the National Panel of the NWPL decided to revert back to the species-level taxonomy, and to not include any infraspecific taxa. Thus, the current review of the 8,558 species does not separately treat these infraspecific taxa with their own distinct wetland ratings and includes all the infraspecific taxa at the species-level."
Again, I have annotated the information provided in the Federal Register notice with links here.  Much additional information on background, issues and procedures is available in the Federal Register notice and at the official NWPL site. Beyond this initial update, the future of the NWPL looks highly promising:
"Protocols were developed to ensure that updates to the NWPL will occur biennially or as necessary and that they will follow scientifically acceptable procedures. The updating process will provide guidelines established by the National Panel for testing wetland indicator status ratings for future recommended changes and additions to the NWPL. The process will be supported by an interactive Web site where all procedures and supportive information will be posted. Information on this searchable Web site will include the names of all National and Regional Panel members, prior ecological information obtained by the FWS or Kartesz (BONAP) for each species, any comments previously made by others that was retained in the FWS database on the NWPL, and links to botanical literature and plant ecology information to support assignment of wetland indicator statuses of all species under consideration.

"Once the NWPL is initially updated, this Web site will be expanded to include upland plants and facilitate regular updates as additional information is submitted and nomenclature changes. These changes will be generated through a modification of the web-based process outlined above. Regular updates based on nomenclature changes will be developed on a biennial basis. Anyone may petition for a change in indicator status for any taxon by submitting appropriate ecological data, literature review, testing description, and geographic data. This will include frequency and abundance data for the taxon in wetlands and uplands in a broad range of the wetland supplement region or subregion for which the change is proposed. Such data will be reviewed and evaluated by the appropriate Regional Panel, and any changes they recommend will go through a vetting process similar to the initial NWPL update. The Web site will contain the most recent, currently valid indicator statuses."
If you have expertise and/or interest in wetland flora, make sure to review the available information and submit your comments by the current deadline on 7 March 2011!

06 January 2011

UK DFID Announces Fellowships in African Climate Science

The UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the UK Met Office (UKMO) Hadley Centre have established a Climate Science Research Partnership (CSRP) that has just announced their Call for Applications (pdf) for fellowships in African climate science.

The CSRP goals are "to improve the understanding and prediction of African climate on monthly, seasonal and decadal timescales and to strengthen climate science capacity in Africa." At the highest level, these efforts are oriented on four specific science objectives:
  • Improved understanding and modelling,
  • Improved prediction products,
  • Observational monitoring and attribution, and
  • Downscaling.
The CSRP maintains seven priority research themes that must be addressed by some or all of the applicants, depending on achievement level and type of fellowship:
  1. Evaluation of HadGEM3 representation and predictability of climate variability;
  2. Investigation of the mechanisms underlying climate variability;
  3. Attribution for the role of anthropogenic factors in observed climate extremes;
  4. Seasonal forecast evaluation and use;
  5. Decadal forecast evaluation and demonstration of potential uses;
  6. Construction of regional historical observation datasets;
  7. Downscaling investigations and applications.
Up to three fellowships will be awarded in each of three types available: Postgraduate Research Fellowships, Postdoctoral Research Fellowships and Applications Project Fellowships. Applicants must be resident nationals of an African country and the fellowship must be hosted at an African Institute. The deadline for applications is 4 February 2011. Successful applicants will be funded to make an induction visit to the Met Office Hadley Centre, of up to 4 weeks duration, to learn about the CSRP objectives, retrieve data for the fellowship research/project and to help consolidation of their fellowship plans.

Interested graduates can find full documentation describing the available fellowship opportunities, as well as guidance for preparation of an application package, at the fellowship program website

04 January 2011

U.S. NSF Letter on Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES)

In the midst of budget uncertainty and predicted funding losses, and expected attacks from the incoming Republican-dominated Congress, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) is reaching out in a "Dear Colleague Letter" to the community to illustrate what is important in looking forward into America's future in science, engineering and education.  Without the cultivation of innovation and the exploitation of opportunity in these areas, the United States would not have risen to the status of a global power after World War I and to that of super-power after World War II.  As American influence in the global arena seems in some terms on the wane, it's time to regain our hold on the basics of progress through innovation and re-establish our commitment to the foundations of that outward-oriented global leadership.  Without a program like this at the core of a government commitment to its citizens, America will only slip farther down the slope along which other, past leaders of the global community have trod.

Dear Colleague Letter for the
Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES)
NSF-Wide Investment Area (NSF 11-022)
Achieving a sustainable human future in the face of both gradual and abrupt environmental change is one of the most significant challenges facing humanity. NSF will contribute to addressing this challenge by supporting the science and engineering research needed to understand and overcome the barriers to sustainable human well-being. In response to this global challenge, all eleven NSF Directorates and Offices have joined together to support Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES). The purpose of this [Dear Colleague Letter] is to explain the scope of the SEES investment area, alert the community to activities that are being planned for the near term, and point to sources of additional information about future SEES plans.

Through SEES, NSF seeks to enable the discoveries needed to inform actions that lead to environmental, energy and societal sustainability. SEES will include the conceptual, theoretical, empirical, and computational research needed to further develop the basic science, engineering, education, and policy knowledge base relevant to sustainability. Additionally, it will support projects at multiple scales, from the individual to the system level, and will stimulate innovations in education and learning research and practice.

SEES is expected to be a multi-year effort that will address challenges in climate and energy research and education using a systems-based approach to understanding, predicting, and reacting to change in the linked natural, social, and built environment. In 2010, initial efforts focused on a suite of research and education programs at the intersection of climate and environment, with specific attention to incorporating human dimensions. Solicitations were released that addressed ocean acidification, water sustainability and climate, dimensions of biodiversity, earth systems modeling, and climate change education. Plans are to continue these competitions under the SEES portfolio. Future efforts will support research and education that builds connections between current projects, creates new nodes of activity, engages the public, and develops the personnel needed to understand the complexity of sustainability issues.

In FY 2011, NSF plans to encourage interdisciplinary research and education on energy sustainability, with a particular emphasis on the socioeconomic and environmental implications. Potential areas of emphases include the development of sustainable energy technologies, development of techniques for effective and efficient use of water resources, and research in transportation technology. A continued focus will be placed on creating the necessary workforce to address sustainability challenges and connecting elements of the SEES portfolio. Specific efforts will support postdoctoral researchers and early career scientists at the interfaces between social sciences and other science and engineering disciplines.

The SEES Portfolio will support research and education projects that span all eleven NSF Directorates and Offices, including:
  • research at the energy-environment-society nexus
  • novel energy production, harvesting, storage, transmission, and distribution technologies, and their intelligent control that minimizes environmental impact and corresponding adoption, socioeconomic, and policy issues
  • innovative computational science and engineering methods and systems for monitoring, understanding and optimizing life-cycle energy costs and carbon footprints of natural, social and built systems (including IT systems themselves)
  • data analysis, modeling, simulation, visualization, and intelligent decision-making facilitated by advanced computation to understand impacts of climate change and to analyze mitigation strategies
  • study of societal factors such as vulnerability and resilience, and sensitivity to regional change
  • short and long term research enabled by a new generation of experimental and observational networks
  • support for interdisciplinary education/learning science research, development, and professional capacity-building related to sustainability science and engineering
  • creation of research and education partnerships around forefront developments in sustainability science and engineering, both nationally and internationally
  • development of the workforce required to understand the complexities of environmental, energy, and societal sustainability
  • engaging the public to understand issues in sustainability and energy
  • development of the cyberinfrastructure and research instrumentation needed to enable sustainability science and engineering
  • support of the physical, cyber, and human infrastructure necessary to achieve SEES goals
Researchers who are interested in SEES-related topics are encouraged to consider the following near term activities, as well as periodically check the SEES web page for specific guidance on future research funding opportunities:
  • The Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program is encouraging submission of projects related to SEES themes for its FY 2011 competition (NSF 10-612). CNH is jointly managed by the Biological Sciences; Geosciences; and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences, while other NSF units (including the Directorate for Engineering, the Directorate for Education and Human Resources, the Office of International Science and Engineering, and the Office of Polar Programs) participate in evaluation of proposals and, when appropriate, in funding awards. The CNH program is one of many standing programs contributing to the NSF portfolio of investments for SEES.
  • The Catalyzing New International Collaborations program (NSF 11-508) provides support for the early phase of developing and coordinating research and education activities with foreign partner(s). These activities include, but are not limited to: planning visits, small workshops, initial data gathering activities, and the development of research coordination networks.
  • The Research Coordination Networks program (NSF 10-566) supports planning activities that bring together novel groupings of researchers (including education researchers and experts in public engagement) and the development of innovative methods for networking investigators working on topics related to SEES.
  • Where appropriate, researchers are encouraged to include support for postdoctoral researchers within new proposal submissions, especially those SEES-related projects providing opportunities to integrate the social and natural sciences.
  • Interdisciplinary workshops are encouraged that would help inform the development of SEES activities over the coming years. Investigators should discuss their ideas with Program Officers in the most relevant NSF core program(s) to determine the saliency of their concepts with SEES goals. See Chapter II.D.8 of the Grant Proposal Guide for information about proposals for conferences, symposia and workshops.
For specific questions about SEES related activities, please see the list of SEES points of contact.
For some small measure of privacy, I have omitted the list of signatories, but you can find them all on the NSF page for this letter.