29 October 2012

Monday Infographics: Hurricane Sandy

As I write this, Hurricane Sandy is a few hours away from landfall on the coast of New Jersey. My hopes are that residents along the Mid-Atlantic and New England seaboard have heeded warnings, prepared their homes and families, and evacuated from those areas where directed. For those in the path of this massive storm, the greatest danger is not the winds or rains or even storm surge, it's poor preparation for those and any sense of hubris. If you need help, I don't know why you would be reading this - go to Google's Crisis Map or check out Ushahidi's great round-up of relevant maps and sites.

The Weather Underground web site, long a favorite for those of us who love diving into the data behind all the fancy graphics that The Weather Channel delivers so consistently, was recently bought by that latter company. I readily admit that the merger of expertise between these two, WU in meteorology and TWC in presentation, has been fantastic. One significant positive was WU's selection in 2008 of a Google Maps interface, allowing the user's selection from a vast array of data sources. That orientation, with the expectation that the user can get just as little or as much information as they want/need, is a superb choice on the part of both TWC and WU. The retention of WU's blogs and experts keeps us weather-fascinated types geeking out over all the great stuff that is going on.

So, very quickly, this screen capture of WU's "WunderMap" from approx. 2 pm EDT of the coastal Atlantic region, with the track of Hurricane Sandy and the precipitation radar overlaid on the satellite base map. There are several things to be noted here:
  1. Sandy's eye has just entered the offshore extent of coastal radar coverage. It's rare (to put it mildly) that a storm spans the full extent from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod.
  2. The last advisory position for Sandy's center is just SE of the eye, and the next forecast position is just W of the eye, indicating a track forecast that is currently very accurate.
  3. I did not plot here the pressure or wind fields around Sandy, or the forecast track uncertainty, or the storm surge heights and tide forecasts, or the individual stream gauges with their observations and flood stage forecasts throughout the region... but those are all available in the data sources on the right side of the interface.
Screen capture around 2 pm EDT on 29 October 2012 from Weather Underground's WunderMap.

For the most up-to-the-moment version of this particular map and data combination, click here.

17 October 2012

Some More Reports on Water and Related Issues

Maybe I should collect all of these, from this and previous posts, into an attached page? Hmmm...
From the US Government Accounting Office
From the US Geological Survey
From the National Research Council

15 October 2012

Monday Infographics: The Clean Water Act at 40

For this week's infographic I was looking around for something great on the Clean Water Act, which was was passed into law by the US Congress (over President Nixon's veto) on 18 October 1972. Alas, I was not able to find something clear and colorful and informative about all that the Clean Water Act has done for our country and our environmental and personal health over these past four decades. I did, however, find a very insightful interactive graphic feature that was originally published in 2009 by the New York Times.

I mentioned previously on this blog one of the reporters who was responsible for this interactive feature, Charles Duhigg, who was honored with a Science Journalism Award from the Kavli Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2009 for his work on the New York Times feature series "Toxic Waters." Credit goes as well to Mr. Duhigg's research and reporting partner Karl Russell at the New York Times. The Flash-animated interactive feature shown here is merely a link to their excellent and detailed work drawing all of the data together and publishing it online. I have not copied their data or work, or the code of the interactive feature itself, merely a couple of image captures and link to the original feature from this space. For more information on all of the stories and features related to Mr. Duhigg's (and everyone else's) great work on the "Toxic Waters" series, check out their New York Times pages.

There is certainly some commentary that could accompany this, related particularly to the data embedded in the feature, but I'll leave that for another post. Perhaps on Thursday, the 40th birthday of the CWA...

from the New York Times

Clean Water Act Violations: The Enforcement Record

Interactive graphic feature originally published on 13 September 2009 in the online edition of the New York Times by Karl Russell and Charles Duhigg.
Circles representing the number of facilities in each state that are regulated under the Clean Water Act. For
examples to provide scale, Wisconsin had 653 registered facilities, and California had 2,161 registered facilities.

Circles representing the number of regulated facilities in each state (outer gray) that were found to have violated provisions of the
Clean Water Act (inner, darker gray). For examples to provide scale, Wisconsin had 313 facilities (~39% of the total registered in
that state) that violated the CWA in the 2004 - 2007 period, and California had 597 facilities (~27% of the total registered in that
state) in violation in that period.

Circles representing the number of violating facilities in each state (outer gray) that were prosecuted under the Clean Water Act
(inner, darkest gray). For examples to provide scale, Wisconsin saw 83 enforcement actions against violating facilities (~33% of
the total violating facilities in that state) under the CWA in the 2004 - 2007 period, and California saw 142 enforcement actions
(~25% of the total violating facilities in that state) under the CWA in that period.

The following original caption accompanied the interactive feature:
Figures were compiled by asking states to verify data initially provided by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Any time officials disputed the data, they were asked to provide alternative figures, which were substituted. New Mexico, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Idaho and the District of Columbia were not delegated enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Figures for those states are from the E.P.A. Georgia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Mississippi disputed the E.P.A. figures but did not provide alternative information. States' responses are available here.

09 October 2012

National Academies report on "Challenges and Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences"

This week the US National Research Council (NRC) released the report Challenges and Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences. This new report was compiled by the Water Science and Technology Board within the Division on Earth and Life Studies of the National Academy of Sciences, an arm of the National Academies. This new NRC report is a significant update of, and complement to, the original 1991 NRC report Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences. Indeed, as Committee Chairperson G.M. Hornberger writes in this report Preface,
"Today, anyone who reads the 'Blue Book,' as the 1991 NRC report came to be affectionately known, must be struck by how the research agenda envisioned then still serves as a sturdy framework for the field and will undoubtedly do so for a long time in the future. Of course the hydrologic sciences have advanced and matured tremendously since 1991..."
Such encompassing NRC reports, including those of related groups, have become something of a marker in the history of scientific research programs, bringing into alignment some of the history of a field of study and indicating some of the promising future directions for the field. Chairperson Hornberger goes on to state,
"Novel scientific studies now are possible because they can be built on successes of the past and can employ powerful new analytical, measurement, and computational technologies that have emerged over the past two decades and even over the past several years. There are completely new possibilities for learning how water shapes the surface of Earth (and other planets) and creates vegetation patterns, how the hydrology of the land surface both drives and is driven by atmospheric processes, how complex biogeochemical processes are intertwined with hydrological processes, and how a host of the research questions posed in the Blue Book now can be attacked advantageously. In addition to establishing the conceptual, empirical, and theoretical foundations of the science, refining and bolstering the fundamental base for hydrologic sciences is essential to support those who grapple with a multitude of water-related problems in a world that needs increasingly more energy, food, and water for humans while protecting ecosystem integrity, biodiversity, and irreplaceable landscapes, all in the face of a changing climate. Talk about challenges!"
It is a burgeoning field that can indicate so much progress over decades, know its contributions to and relevance in today's world, and maintain a clear view of the work still to be done.

The authoring committee was chaired by Prof. Hornberger and included (in alphabetical order) Assoc. Prof. E. Bernhardt, Prof. W.E. Dietrich, Prof. Dara Entekhabi, Prof. G.E. Fogg, Prof. E. Foufoula-Georgiou, Prof. W.J. Gutowski, Prof. W. Berry Lyons, Prof. K.W. Potter, Prof. S.W. Tyler, Prof. H.J. Vaux, Jr., Prof. C.J. Vörösmarty, Prof. C. Welty, Assoc. Prof. C.A. Woodhouse, and Prof. C. Zheng, along with several staff and numerous reviewers. Their resulting report
"... is not, and was not meant to be, a comprehensive compendium of detailed research projects that might be undertaken in advancing hydrologic science, nor does it seek to define a field — a distinct geoscience — as did the Blue Book. Rather, it presents a high-level view of the field and gives broad examples of the 'promising new opportunities to advance hydrologic sciences' as requested in the charge. It also outlines some of the challenges that face NSF, other agencies engaged in research in hydrologic sciences, and the hydrologic sciences community in fulfilling the vision for the field. The committee members are unanimous in the hope that the report will stimulate new research, some of which will undoubtedly extend beyond the specifics of what is written and into disciplines related to hydrologic sciences, but all of which will contribute to a shared vision of a vibrant and exciting hydrologic science of the future.
The report Table of Contents is a rather concise overview of the specific material tackled by this Committee:
  1. The Hydrologic Sciences
    • What Is Hydrologic Science?
    • Technological and Scientific Advances
    • The Interdisciplinary Interface
    • Hydrologic Science: Looking Ahead
  2. The Water Cycle: An Agent of Change
    • Introduction
    • Research Opportunities
    • Concluding Remarks
  3. Water and Life
    • Introduction
    • Research Opportunities
    • Concluding Remarks
  4. Clean Water for People and Ecosystems
    • Introduction
    • Research Opportunities
    • Concluding Remarks
  5. Hydrologic Sciences: A Path Forward
    • Scientific Challenges
    • Education Issues
    • Importance of Various Modalities of Research Support
    • Translational Hydrologic Science: Key to Success Through Broader Impact
    • Concluding Remarks
+ "References and Suggested Reading" in each chapter
+ 2 Appendices

You can obtain a full pdf copy of both (1991 and 2012) reports from the National Academies Press, for free with registration, at their respective web pages:

08 October 2012

Monday Infographics: Indian Rivers Inter-Link

ResearchBlogging.orgThis started as a regular, relatively brief Monday infographics post, and turned into a full blog post (with references!), so please enjoy the contextual material. For this week's infographic I drew from two sources to give you some sense on the scope of one of the largest water transfer efforts in the world.

The single largest national water transfer project on Earth is likely in China. That effort, comprised of several transfer components built over many years, is currently nearing completion and is called the South-North Water Transfer Project. The SNWTP is intended to bring water from the (relatively) moist and humid south, especially the Yangtze River basin, to the semi-arid (and more politicized) north including the Bejing and Shanghai metropolitan areas. That infrastructure project was initiated and directed over the past couple of decades under a more command-type economy, at which China remains relatively adept.

India is different, however. The world's largest democracy (1.2 bln as of 2011) must collect approved taxes and pass spending bills in order to support such projects. With the Indian parliament as a sometime-hindrance to infrastructure renewal (just as in the United States, though with four times as many people to support and protect), many have linked this tendency to "fall behind" with the blackout earlier this summer that affected as many as 650 mln citizens. Although some pointed to water management at the country's numerous hydroelectric stations as contributing to the emergency, there remains some difference of opinion regarding the underlying and proximate causes of the blackout itself.

Nevertheless, the close ties between water and energy across India are clear, so much so that India could serve a far better example than the US or China of the "true nexus" still to be addressed in international human health and security efforts. The monsoon season remains of paramount importance to water supplies throughout India, and some have suggested that water infrastructure could provide the "next big failure" to watch out for on the subcontinent. The India Meteorological Department maintains a great website for tracking the current monsoon season, with lots of historical information available for review and comparison. However, Indian monsoon forecast skill remains low, is complicated by the thorough coupled nature of the land-atmosphere system in that part of the world, and is made only more uncertain by impacts of climate change in tropical regions. While drought may not be as big a problem for India as it once was, there are numerous immediate reasons for concern:

Overall, India is arriving at an increasingly difficult position (to put it mildly) with regard to providing water (and energy, and food...) for its people:

From the Columbia Water Center.

In order to address the overall distribution of water across the subcontinent, numerous projects including dams, canals and pipelines, and interbasin transfers has been underway for more than 40 years. More recently, the National Water Development Agency has outlined an omnibus National Perspective Plan, more commonly called the "Indian Rivers Inter-link," a project encompassing at least 30 projects passing water through numerous river basins in order to better distribute water supplies. The scope of the project is massive:

Based on materials provided by India's National Water Development Agency.

As the legend goes, the much-touted Indian railway system was originally designed during the British colonial era to provide for rapid redistribution of crop products and stored grains in times of drought and famine, easing significantly the burden of monsoon failures on much of the nation. To be honest, though, my history education didn't cover as much outside of the "Western world" as I would have liked, so your input and correction is welcome here. Will the Indian Rivers Inter-link eventually provide even better water and food security to the Indian people?


Jain, S.K., N.S.R.K. Reddy, and U.C. Chaube, 2005: "Analysis of a large inter-basin water transfer system in India." Hydrological Sciences Journal, v. 50, pp. 125-137, doi: 10.1623/hysj.

Kumar, R., R.D. Singh, and K.D. Sharma, 2005: "Water resources of India." Current Science, v. 89, pp. 794-811, available in pdf.

Krishna Kumar, K., M. Hoerling, and B. Rajagopalan, 2005: "Advancing dynamical prediction of Indian monsoon rainfall." Geophysical Research Letters, 32, paper no. L08704, doi: 10.1029/2004GL021979.

Turner, A.G., and H. Annamalai, 2012: "Climate change and the South Asian summer monsoon." Nature Climate Change, v. 2, 587-595, doi: 10.1038/nclimate1495.

Wang, B., Q. Ding, X. Fu, I.-S. Kang, K. Jin, J. Shukla, and F. Doblas-Reyes, 2005: "Fundamental challenge in simulation and prediction of summer monsoon rainfall." Geophysical Research Letters, v. 32, paper no. L15711, doi: 10.1029/2005GL022734.

03 October 2012

Existential crisis of the day...

... or "Why should I go see a therapist? I have friends on Twitter!"

Note 1: since my friend @Sapphire SeaLion's Twitter account is protected (to follow her, you need to ask really really nicely), some of the features in these embedded tweets may not show up properly due to the way that Twitter's fancy-pants script works for this embed-code-thingy.

Note 2: since @Sapphire SeaLion's Twitter account is protected and I wanted to respect her privacy, I asked her directly for permission to copy tweets of hers that appear here. See below for that statement of permission.

Note 3: because of account protection and privacy, Storify would not let me display @Sapphire SeaLion's tweets at all. I kinda sorta tried to spoof it here, although that could be why Twitter's script is not handling some of these tweets in a manner consistent with the others... You get the idea.

Enough with the disclaimers and disclosures...

Statement of full disclosure: I moved the following tweet from it's actual time-stamp (1:01 pm CDT) to this position in the conversation in order to maintain our narrative flow.

And since @Sapphire SeaLion's Twitter account is protected...

A short while later, while starting to compile this post, I had a remembery...

Okay, so maybe the 140-character forum-that-is-twitter isn't the best place for this kind of thing, so with that flourish...
[takes a bow] [exits stage right]

Appropriate and proper recognition and thanks: I learned the proper way to embed tweets in Blogger via this blog post from Katy Widrick.

01 October 2012

Happy New (Water) Year!

Dear readers: please accept my late submission for this week's Monday Infographic. I'm fighting off a cold/flu thing. There was an earthquake, then a tsunami, then a flood, then a drought. I've had a lot of research and classwork to do. Here's a note from my doctor. My home was struck by a plague. I left the infographic in my other pants! The President is coming to town!! Locusts!!!

So anyways, I brought you a gift to make up for it. Close your eyes. No peeking! Okay, open them...

Happy New (Water) Year!!! Were you surprised? What... don't you like it? But it's the gift that keeps on giving! Oh, I get it, you're taking a "wait and see" attitude, huh? Well, OK then. Probably a smart move anyway, given the long-term commitment that a water year requires. I'll wait.

The hydrological water year starts every autumn (in the US, at least) on 1 October and extends to the following 30 September. The available description from the USGS does not explain why this is the period considered, so it might seem just as arbitrary as a budget year in various governmental and academic institutions and business. But at least there is some natural logic to the hydrological year: with the end of summer comes the (approximate) end of intense evaporation from reservoirs and the (approximate) beginning of the seasons in which the net water balance in a watershed is generally positive. That is, in general, precipitation > evaporation. Normally, from the beginning through about two-thirds of the water year (the following May-ish) water is stored in the higher reaches of large watersheds as snowpack, which melts and runs off through the rest of the water year. Stream flows generally continue to drop from October through winter, but then rise significantly at the start of the melt season. That imbalance, where precipitation > evaporation, applies over a period longer than a single storm and for the whole watershed, not just on a random wet or dry day in one's own neighborhood.

One of the more interesting areas to observe the water year is the Colorado River Basin (CRB) in the southwestern US. I've written before about the Colorado River, which has become so strictly regulated, in part because of gross over-allocation, over nearly a century of intensive use that it has become what I think is a consummate example of the coupled natural - human system. The CRB as a whole is governed by the Colorado River Compact, ratified by six of the seven basin states in 1922 (Arizona finally ratified in 1944) and amended significantly over time. Since its beginning, however, the fundamentals of the Compact have not been renegotiated, nor the river flows reallocated for accuracy, as that's a political hot potato in the US Southwest. There have been a number of proposals (e.g. from the Pacific Institute) to handle recent near-shortages and potential future shortages of water supply in the Lower CRB, and some careful approaches to informing efforts at Compact renovation by the USBR istelf.

Several web sites (e.g. here and here) provide measurements and statistics on CRB flows and the status of reservoirs and other river operations, including the US Bureau of Reclamation as the de facto engineer and watermaster for the Lower Colorado Basin. The Upper Colorado Basin, technically that area above Lee's Ferry AZ (USGS gauge 09380000) but effectively all the area contributing to Lake Powell, is managed by a jumble of entities that have become so tightly intertwined, and that have seemingly prioritized politics over science, that any "management" is difficult to discern (please, those of you who are more knowledgeable on the CRB, correct me where I am wrong). Of course, it's not like there aren't any water politics in the Lower CRB as well. The problem of water sharing and use in the CRB has resulted in some of the finest books on water issues in the past several decades, including Donald Worster's Rivers of Empire, Norris Hundley's Water and the West, and Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert.

Earlier today I came across this fantastic map of the CRB natural and engineered system that was designed by 5W Infographics, who designed the map for National Geographic. A representative at 5W Infographics gave me permission publish this smaller version of their map, and you can find the full-resolution version at National Geographic's Map Collection. The detail and breadth of information that they've packed into this wonderful format is simply amazing! (I love maps, by the way... Can you tell?)

Map courtesy of 5W Infographics, available in full size/resolution from the National Geographic Map Collection.