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University of Florida, SAS Partner to Study Water Quality Issues

UF researchers are working with the data analytics company SAS to gather data and investigate the connections between pollution, ocean circulation, coastal water quality and economics using water forecasting technology.

The University of Florida’s Center for Coastal Solutions (CCS) is working with the data analytics company SAS to study factors that influence water quality in Charlotte Harbor and evaluate the connection between water quality and the local economy, an announcement last week said.

According to a news release, the university will use the AI and data analytics platform SAS Viya on Microsoft Azure to develop its own web-based water analytics platform with the goal of integrating data from scientific research, visualizing water quality conditions over time and producing insights on clean water management techniques. Funded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, an interdisciplinary team of CCS researchers including hydrologists, oceanographers, ecologists, economists and computer scientists will use data to explore “interdependencies among pollution, ocean circulation, coastal water quality and economics” as well as to forecast water quality.

The news release said the research comes after CCS and SAS developed a pilot-scale platform last year to gather and create visualizations of water quality data from the Charlotte Harbor estuary almost in real time, which researchers say demonstrated the value of high-quality data in supporting decision-making and scientific research. The new study aims to expand on the Charlotte Harbor pilot to include the northern reaches of the harbor and nearby tributaries, allowing for an estimate of economic impacts of environmental changes throughout the region.

“By capitalizing on the exceptional supercomputing power of the University of Florida and SAS Viya, CCS, SAS and DEP are in a unique position to leverage large amounts of environmental data that have been collected by state agencies, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and others to better understand how coastal water quality is changing and why,” Christine Angelini, CCS’s director and professor in the Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences, said in a public statement. “Our primary goal in coupling this advanced scientific understanding with a holistic assessment of the regional economy is to deliver useful, actionable information to decision makers who want to leave a legacy of cleaner waters, healthier ecosystems and a more robust, resilient economy in this region of the state.”

The SAS-CCS project comes as other institutions use technology to study water quality changes and impacts, such as at the University of Pittsburgh, where researchers are using satellite imagery to help detect and predict changes to water quality, as well as recent efforts from the California Department of Water Resources to use airborne electromagnetic data to map groundwater for basin management.

The announcement noted that the University of Florida’s research was made possible after the state recently committed more than $3.6 billion to Florida’s environment and water quality, with $17 million dedicated to data analytics for water quality improvement efforts.

“We are excited and proud to partner with the University of Florida and SAS to develop innovative solutions to complex challenges,” Mark Rains, Florida’s chief science officer, said in a public statement. “This analytics platform will help us to better identify and respond to water quality changes in Charlotte Harbor, and it has the potential to unlock data-based solutions that will enhance our efforts around the state.”