Data-driven environmental management: HU digital dashboard to help protect Susquehanna River Basin

Streamlined access to data makes forecasting, monitoring, and timely action much easier for any organization.

Whether in business, education, and even environmental protection, quick access to data can mean the difference between achieving and not achieving a centralized goal.

For the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), data is key to the commission’s core mission, which is to enhance public welfare through comprehensive planning, water supply allocation, and management of Susquehanna River Basin water resources.

Pine Creek Watershed. Four different views of the watershed that correspond to different important environmental science areas: Landuse (green=rural, red =urban), underlying Geology (colors represent different rock types), Soils (green/tan=healthy, red=highly altered soil), and Mine Drainage (white dots=monitoring sites, colored dots=contamination).

To accomplish this, the Commission has developed programs to assess and track water quality conditions in the basin using various chemical, biological, and habitat data. Continuous monitoring, forecasting, predictive analytics and timely interventions are of utmost importance to achieve the Commission’s objectives. But the Commission doesn’t have a central dashboard – screens with critical information which give managers a unified view of the data that matters – to monitor these important indicators. And that’s why a team of HU professors and students have partnered with the Commission to develop a digital dashboard, dubbed the SRBC Monitoring Dashboard System, which will identify relationships between different environmental parameters and indicators, and present them to facilitate better decision making.

“The current project’s goal is to build the requisite dashboards. In our work, we will combine deep learning techniques, visualization, and data mining to identify relationships between various environmental parameters and indicators,” said HU Professor Dr. Siamak Aram, who is working on the project with professors Dr. Michael Meyer, Dr. Kevin Purcell and John Quigley, director of the University’s Center for Environment, Energy, and Economy.

Work on the project began last summer. To support the work, Harrisburg University President Dr. Eric Darr awarded the team a $20,000 Presidential Research Grant last fall.

The team, which consists of six HU graduate students, currently is conducting a literature review to understand what type of technology the commission works with to monitor water conditions and more. It has reviewed available data and is exploring models and techniques that could work to develop a dashboard prototype.

Students participate by:

  1. Researching current state-of-the-art methods and emerging approaches in the domain.
  2. Identifying suitable presentation framework for geospatial and temporal data.
  3. Identifying and building suitable predictive models.
  4. Documenting and publishing research outcomes.

Work should be completed by June, but this project involving the Susquehanna River, the longest river along the east coast that drains into the Atlantic Ocean, could be a stepping stone for a nationwide project, Dr. Aram said.

“The work with SRBC is a powerful demonstration of proof-of-concept use of data science for evidence-based environmental policy making by all levels of government,” he said. “We hope to develop decision-support tools/methods for governments and businesses that help them make better, more informed, more effective, and more pragmatic decisions. And because the Susquehanna River basin is HU’s home, we are aiming to help make a difference for the local environment, economy, and quality of life.“

 “This project is an example of the potential that HU has to leverage its technology and science programs to make a local difference and to have impact nationally and globally,” Aram added. “Its success will enable us to attract additional partners, take on more collaborations, and lead research in solving more environmental challenges.”

About Harrisburg University of Science and Technology

Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields. For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717.901.5146 or email, Connect@HarrisburgU.edu.