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UC Merced Professor Takes Instrumental Role in Planning Water Sensor Network

January 27, 2004
CLEANER Project to Clarify Understanding of California's Water Issues

MERCED, CA — Whether it's above or below the ground, water is key to some of California's most pressing environmental problems.

In the next several years, floods and droughts, reservoirs, groundwater, rivers and their surrounding habitats, water markets, and water pollution will all be better understood, thanks to new project being run in part by researchers at UC Merced.

In August 2004, Professor Tom Harmon won a grant of $85,998 from the National Science Foundation for “Planning a Multiscale Sensor Network to Observe, Forecast and Manage a CLEANER California Water Cycle.”

The Collaborative Large-Scale Engineering Analysis Network for Engineering Research (CLEANER) that Harmon is planning begins with a backbone network of sensors installed throughout the San Joaquin River Basin, making use of efforts already underway by state and federal governments. The project will also include hundreds of different kinds of sensors installed along the Merced River in the Sierra Nevada snow pack area; through the foothills, farmlands and urban areas of the San Joaquin Valley; and into the low wetlands around the river.

Using CLEANER's larger picture of temperature, chemical makeup, flow rates and more, scientists on the project hope to gain a better understanding of the complex cause-and-effect relationships in our environment, and to learn how best to minimize negative effects through better resource management.

“CLEANER will also clarify how to design, build and maintain a large-scale network of sensors in various settings, and how to get all those sensors to working together,” says Harmon. “That knowledge can be applied in other fields, including resource management, public health and countless others.”

The fact that the current grant is a planning grant means that no sensors are being installed yet. The grant dollars will allow Harmon and his colleagues, including postdoctoral researcher Jason Fisher, to spend the necessary time to identify the best equipment and how to place it to achieve optimum results. Ideally, the sensor network will provide data to analyze for years to come.

“The use of emerging computation and information management technologies will dramatically improve our ability to protect and improve environmental quality,” says Jeff Wright, Dean of Engineering at UC Merced. “Professor Harmon is not only a gifted researcher and leader in this exciting new field, but has gained a richly deserved reputation for bringing his innovations into his classrooms. He and his research group will establish, through this important grant, a strong foundation for future implementation of the CLEANER technology framework.”

Individuals from several institutions are working together to plan the project, including UC Merced, UC Davis, UC Riverside and UCLA professors and students; researchers from the national laboratories in Livermore and Berkeley as well as several government agencies; citizen stakeholder groups; and representatives of the sensor industry.

“Collaboration and interdisciplinary research are crucial to this project,” Harmon adds. “To obtain the larger view we need, we have to draw in a huge amount of data and people with the expertise necessary to interpret that information.”