Scientists with federal and state agencies, academic researchers, environmental consultants and watershed group volunteers have collected water quality data for years as part of efforts to monitor the health of Pennsylvanias waterways.
However, while there is virtually a deluge of water-quality data, much of it has never been incorporated into a sustainable database accessible to both researchers and the public.
That has just changed. A new database that channels available water quality data into a searchable format recently was demonstrated at the ShaleNetwork 2012 workshop at Penn States University Park campus. The workshop was part of the ShaleNetwork, a multi-institutional initiative funded by National Science Foundation to track potential impacts of gas shale activity, including that of the largest source of natural gas in the United States, the Marcellus Shale.
The purpose of the event was to encourage participants to use and contribute data to a growing database of water quality for regions of shale gas development.
Our goal is to create a database of water quality and quantity that will be helpful in decision making because the more data that are available, the better decisions that can be made, said Susan Brantley, principal investigator for the ShaleNetwork and director of the Penn State Earth and Environmental Systems Institute. The power of data is in sharing.
Interest in sharing water quality data was common among the 41 workshop participants, who represented a mix of academic institutions, nonprofits, watershed groups, the environmental industry and country, state and federal agencies.
With more information, we will be able to see patterns and anomalies in stream health, said Ann Donovan, with the Centre Country Conservation District, who works with monitoring teams for the Beech Creek watershed.
Besides making hard-to-find data publicly available, the database also holds the promise of making data collection more consistent. Establishing protocols will ensure data quality, as will putting data online for scrutiny, Brantley said.
We want to act as an honest broker by collating and synthesizing the data collection that is occurring throughout the Marcellus Shale region, Brantley added. Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale has sparked significant interest in water monitoring among volunteers.
We have people who are engaged in stream monitoring that I had never dreamed would get engaged church groups, farmers, said Julie Vastine, director of the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring at Dickinson College, which has been providing scientific and technical training to watershed associations for 25 years to carry out stream assessments. Theyre getting their waders on because they want to understand what is happening in their backyard, and they are turning to science to help them, Vastine added.
Besides working with the database, workshop participants reached several conclusions:
Extensive water data is available in areas of shale gas but data organization is needed.
The ShaleNetwork team, including representatives from Penn State, Dickinson College and University of Pittsburgh, should partner with state agencies and industry to move their datasets online.
It is already possible to use the database to assess data gaps. The ShaleNetwork team was encouraged to search out data and prioritize uploads to plug the gaps.
While ongoing efforts to find and upload data will be continuing at least during the NSF funding, the ShaleNetwork team will need to sustain the database long-term.
More information about how the data were collected can always be added but the database itself and the future workshops for the database, to be held in 2013 and 2014, will drive standardization that may simplify the need for such explanatory information in the future.
A user interface is needed for easier accessibility for non-scientists.
In addition to developing the searchable database, the project also is examining the interplay between scientists and community watershed groups that is, community members without formal scientific training in data collection and knowledge generation.
Kelly Henry is director of communications and marketing in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State. Margaret Hopkins, coordinator of public information for the college, contributed to this column. For more information, contact Susan Brantley, professor of geosciences and director of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, at 865-1619 or email@example.com.