Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Environmental Analysis
Scientific Community
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

Testing the Water

Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Last Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Bookmark and Share
A new online tool enables users to assess not only how much water we use and for what, but also how we can mitigate future scarcity.

Water, like many other natural resources,is in both high demand and limited supply. In any one region, this precious substance is needed to sustain the domestic requirements of the population, irrigate crops, maintain ecosystems and assist in manufacturing and energy production.

Focusing on the state of California, a multidisciplinary group of Cambridge researchers has developed a model to calculate monthly and annual water demand. Moreover, because the model calculates future scenarios, it provides a means of assessing what can be done to mitigate water scarcity.

Dr Julian Allwood, who leads the Foreseer Project that created the tool, explained: “We’re aiming to create visually compelling messages about resource use now, and in the future, to help users understand the consequences of their choices. We want to help identify opportunities where efficiencies or demand reduction would be effective, and equally we need to demonstrate which actions would have only a little impact.”

For resource managers, policy makers and industry, understanding how to sustainably manage the competing demands on a limited resource is a considerable challenge. An estimated 1.2 billion people currently experience water scarcity and, as the population rises, demand will increasingly outstrip supply.

At the heart of the online tool is the Sankey diagram: a visualisation technique that transforms the plethora of data into an intuitive representation. Horizontal lines trace the flow of water from its various sources (rainfall, surface water, ground water, recycled water), through the services that use it (agriculture, industry, domestic and the environment), to where it ends up, with the relative width of each line representing the amount of resource at each stage.

The model is among a suite of similar tools being created by the BP-funded Foreseer Project. The first is focused on energy, land and water use in California, and is now being used by members of industry, academia and NGOs. Recently, the researchers began work to implement and visualise energy scenarios being considered by California energy planners to investigate the land and water resource implications of future energy use.

“There is a certain attraction in being able to see all demands on a resource being traced through to its end point,” explained team member Dr Jonathan Cullen. “It reveals the scale and impact of human choices and directs attention towards actions that might make a real difference. Because the tool is dynamic, it’s possible to ‘toggle’ multiple water management policies to see what the outcome on energy, land and water resources might be.”

In California, the water resource issues already faced by the state are likely to worsen with the predicted climate-related reduction in snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. At the same time the demand for water for agriculture, urban uses and the environment could also increase, which may lead to intense competition between these different sectors.   

It’s a gloomy picture but, as researcher Dr Liz Curmi described, the aim of the tool is to look for positives. “We built the tool to be user centred because we wanted people to think about the positive actions they can take to reduce stress on the resource. So, a policy maker might ask whether increasing desalination would make a difference, and the answer, on a state-wide level, is no. But reducing the amount of irrigated water used by the agricultural sector through growing less water-intensive crops could have a dramatic effect.”

Key to the Foreseer Project is the ability to look at the whole picture, to create models that go beyond focusing on a single resource to integrate water, energy and land use. It’s a strategy intended to understand what Professor John Beddington, former Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government, termed a “perfect storm” of insufficient energy, water and food.

“This cohesive view differentiates us from other modelling research groups,” said researcher Grant Kopec. “By integrating these resources, we think we can identify trade-offs between sectors that you might not normally think of as being connected, for instance between power production and agriculture.”

The team, which also includes Bojana Bajželj and Ying Qin, works in the Department of Engineering but is supported by a multidisciplinary group of nine co-investigators from seven different departments. “The collaboration of experts from so many disciplines has been critical to the iterative process we go through to create our models,” explained Allwood. “We all have an interest in the demand on global resources but this may be from a geographical, atmospheric, biological, engineering, mathematical or management perspective – all are needed if we want to design mitigation plans that add up.”

Now the team is extending its focus to other regions of the world including China and the UK with, respectively, funding from BP and as part of a multi-university consortium (WholeSEM) funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Eventually, the aim is to connect regions, countries and continents to arrive at a set of linked global assessments of water, land and energy resources. Already, they have accomplished this for global man-made greenhouse gas emissions: connecting services such as food and transport via the business that delivers them through to the fuel each uses and the emissions that are created.

“By visualising the data as Sankey diagrams, we find out that the scale of intervention really matters,” said Allwood. “One of the big things we’ve learned is how increasing efficiency is not enough – we also have to reduce demand because this can have far more widespread positive impacts than previously considered.”


Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 3,000+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 4,400+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.


Scientific News
Bioreactors Ready for the Big Time
Bioreactors are passive filtration systems that can reduce nitrate losses from farm fields.
Microbial Biosensor Designed To Evaluate Water Toxicity
UAB researchers develop new paper-based biological tool.
Coding and Computers Help Spot Methane, Explosives
Coded apertures improve and shrink mass spectrometers for field use.
Role Of Ancestry In Soil Communities Of Bacteria Revealed
Northern Arizona University researchers used quantitative stable isotope probing to measure bacterial activity in intact soil communities.
Environmental Cleanup Tech Rids Oil from Water
A new technology that is easy to manufacture and uses commercially available materials makes it possible to continuously remove oils and other pollutants from water, representing a potential tool for environmental cleanup.
Fracking's Impact on Drinking Water Sources
A case study of a small Wyoming town reveals that practices common in the fracking industry may have widespread impacts on drinking water resources.
Coral-on-a-Chip Cracks Coral Mysteries
Growing corals in the lab reveals their complex lives.
Waste Water Reveals Drug Secrets
Methamphetamine residue found in the wastewater of a Queensland city has multiplied five times since 2009.
Air Pollution Linked to Higher Risk of Preterm Birth
Researchers at NIH have found early exposure of air pollution may affect pregnancy outcomes.
MIT Study: Carbon Tax Needed to Cut Fossil Fuel Consumption
Researchers at MIT have suggested that the technology-driven cost reductions in fossil fuels will lead the world to continue using all the oil, gas, and coal, unless governments pass new taxes on carbon emissions.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
3,000+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,400+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FOR FREE!