Engaging students in 'big data': Automated sensors for use in environmental aquatic science courses

Project Title: Engaging students in 'big data': Automated sensors for use in environmental aquatic science courses

Project Lead: Michael Vanni

Email: vannimj@miamioh.edu

Phone: (513) 529-3193

Affiliation: CAS

Names: Jonathan Levy, Craig Williamson

Project Details: Scientific data sets are growing rapidly in size (e.g. National Research Council. Frontiers in Massive Data Analysis. The National Academies Press; Washington, D.C: 2013). The rapid growth in the size of data sets can be seen across most, if not all, sciences. In the environmental sciences, as in many other disciplines, this growth is driven by an increased use of automated sensors, which can collect large amounts of data at high frequency, on a variety of parameters. In the environmental sciences these trends are illustrated by national initiatives, including the The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON, http://www.neonscience.org) , and The Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON, http://gleon.org) . These are essentially continental- or global-scale, 'geographically distributed observatories' consisting of next-generation sensor networks and instrumentation. One goal of NEON and GLEON is to provide high frequency data on environmental parameters (temperature, carbon dioxide, oxygen, etc.) that can be used to help forecast and solve environmental problems such as climate change, land use change, and reductions in water quality due to toxic algae (e.g., the Toledo drinking water crisis in 2014). As large data sets become more prevalent, it is critical that we train students to collect, use, and analyze these large data sets. With Tech Fee funds, the multi-department Center for Aquatic and Watershed Sciences proposes to purchase a suite of state-of-the-art sensors that will build upon the instruments we currently use in our classes. The new sensors will allow students in a variety of classes, and for their student research projects, to collect and analyze high-resolution data on freshwater quality and ecosystem health (lakes, rivers, and groundwater). Because they reside 'downhill' in landscapes, freshwater ecosystems and drinking-water sources receive water and other materials from the surrounding landscape, and are thus able to capture information about environmental change. It is critical that students in the aquatic sciences (freshwater ecology, hydrology, water resources) learn how to use these new technologies, and to handle the large data sets they generate, as they prepare for graduate school and careers. Specifically, we propose to purchase two-multi-parameter 'sondes' and a laptop to download and process these data. Each sonde can hold multiple sensors that can measure various environmental parameters, and can be left in a lake, stream or groundwater well in 'logging' mode so that students can collect continuous high-resolution data (e.g., every 15 minutes) for several days or weeks. One sonde will be placed 'permanently' at Acton Lake in Hueston Woods State Park, a site of long-term research and teaching by Miami faculty and students. Data will be available in real time through the CAWS website (data from a weather station on the lake are also available at this site, https://wqdatalive.com/public/272 ). The other sonde will be portable, and easily can be taken to any site for course exercises or student projects. These data will be used in course laboratory exercises and independent research projects. In a previous Tech Fee grant, we purchased 16 oxygen/temperature sensors, which have been used extensively by students in several courses and in research projects (as detailed below in the section describing results from prior Tech Fee funding). The new sensors we request here will expand both the number of students who can use sensors in research projects, and the range of variables they can measure using novel technology. The sensors will be part of Miami's Center for Aquatic and Watershed Sciences (CAWS). The CAWS Research Associate will maintain and service the sensors, and train students and faculty to use the sensors in courses and research projects. We have identified X courses that will use these sensors in student-driven class or laboratory exercises. These include Environmental Protocols (IES 411/511, ~15 students every fall), Limnology (BIO 4/563; ~24 students every fall); Field Ecology (BIO 333; 25-30 students every fall); Introduction to Hydrogeology (GLG 408/508, ~20-25 students every fall), Hydrogeography (GEO 425; ~20 students every other fall), Hydrogeologic Modeling (GLG 428/528, ~15 students every other spring), Field Hydrogeology (GLG 499/599; ~12 students every other summer) and Microbial Ecology (MBI 475, 20-25 students every spring). In addition, students in STA 4/583 (a time series analysis course taken primarily by undergraduates) will use data generated by the sensors in data analysis exercises. In addition, sensors will be used by many students conducting research projects. For example, in the Field Ecology course (BIO 333), the nitrate and oxygen/temperature sensors will be deployed in Acton Lake (a GLEON site located at Hueston Woods State Park) at multiple depths over a couple weeks to study 'ecosystem metabolism' (the balance of photosynthesis and respiration, which produce and consume oxygen, respectively). In the Limnology course (BIO 4/563), students do experiments in large tanks ('mini lakes') at Miami's Ecology Research Center, in which students learn to design, conduct, and analyze rather large experiments (see example below in section on results from previous Tech Fee grants). The sensors will allow students to examine how variables change rapidly in response to various manipulations. In Introduction to Hydrogeology (GLG 4/508), students could collect data from Four Mile Creek and groundwater that is under the influence of surface water due to municipal water production and compare those data to groundwater that is not affected by the creek. Such a laboratory exercise would help student gain an understanding of groundwater/surface-water interaction. In Environment Protocols (IES 4/511) students could examine long-term data from various sources and perform cross-correlation analysis to determine the travel time from one source to another.

Problem Project Attempts to Solve: Many environmental variables change rapidly over time, and these dynamics are important for understanding ecosystems and how they are impacted by humans. The sensors we will purchase will allow students to quantify these dynamics, which is not possible using other methods. For example, the concentration of oxygen in lakes and rivers changes dramatically over a 24 hour period. (As for humans, oxygen is required for most aquatic life). Oxygen concentrations typically increase during the day because it is produced by sunlight-driven photosynthesis by plants and algae, and then declines at night because aquatic animals and plants use it for respiration. Over longer periods, the concentration of oxygen changes due to changes in water temperature (oxygen is more soluble in cold water) and biological activity (which is higher during warm temperatures). Another example is using changes in specific conductance to calculate groundwater velocity. The specific conductance in streams drops in response to storm events, and that drop can be monitored at nearby well locations to infer groundwater travel times. The resulting groundwater velocities are important for sustainable management of groundwater systems; for example, the city of Oxford obtains all of its driking water from groundwater. Environmental science students need to be able to understand the use of sensors to measure rapidly changing environments. Here, we use rapidly changing oxygen or conductance as examples, but other parameters also change rapidly and can provide students with experience to analyze such data. One could argue that students can obtain data from online sources, without the need for us to purchase sensors. However, pedagogically it is more effective for students to actually collect their own data, because 'ownership' of the data gives them a sense of accomplishment and enhances learning.

Does this project focus on graduate studies?: No

If yes, explain: This project focuses mostly on undergraduates. The courses that will utilize them are either 300-level courses, or 4/500 level courses that are taken primarily by undergraduates (>80% undergraduates). They will also be used by undergraduates conducting research projects (e.g., USS students), some of whom will work with graduate students who serve as mentors (along with faculty mentors). While the data also will be used by graduate student for their research projects, the principal use will be in coursework and undergraduate projects.

Does it meet tech fee criteria?: As mentioned above, the sensors we will purchase represent state-ofthe-art technology for measuring environmental variables in rivers and lakes. Students will be trained in using these technologies, and in analyzing the data generated by the sensors. This greatly enhance their preparation for graduate school and careers. There is an increasing demand for ecologists and environmental scientists with excellent technical and quantitative skills. For example, as NEON is constructed across the US, they are hiring for many positions that require knowledge of advanced sensors and quantitative skills. A current example is a NEON 'WorkwithData Institute' focused on training grad students and early career scientists (http://www.neonscience.org/updatesevents/update/seeking-grad-students-and-early-career-scientists-neon's-first-workwithdata) . Miami students who have experience using sensors and handling large amounts of data will be highly competitive for graduate school and for positions such as those at NEON.

How will you assess the project?: Student usage and learning will be assessed in a few ways. First, we will survey students before and after specific exercises and ask them several questions regarding the pros and cons of the exercise, and how use of the sensors and analysis of data contributed to their learning. For example, we will ask to what extent the exercise improved their skills at analyzing large data sets and in using sensor technology. In addition, we will test students' abilities in certain skills before and after exercises. For example, we will ask questions about sensor calibration and accuracy, ecosystem metabolism, analyzing time series data, etc., before and after students do exercises, to gauge their improvement in learning concepts and methods. We will also collect data on the number of courses and students (in both courses and independent research projects) using the sensors, as well as presentations and publications by students who use the sensors. Long-term, we can assess the project by the number of students trained and their products. For example, several students who used the sensors we purchased in our previous Tech Fee grant have presented their work in posters and are authors on publications that present these data (see next section on results from prior Tech Fee grant).

Have you received tech fee funding in the past?: Yes

What results were achieved?: Several of the same faculty submitting this proposal received a Tech Fee grant in 2013, through the Center for Aquatic and Watershed Sciences, as mentioned above. For that award, we purchased 16 oxygen/temperature sensors and accessories. These sensors have been used heavily in two courses, Limnology and Field Ecology (together, about 45-55 students per year, every year; collectively about 90% undergraduates). The oxygen data generated by the sensors have been used in class exercises in another course (Ecosystem and Global Ecology, BIO/MBI 672), and another class (Hydrogeography, GEO 4/525) used weather data produced by a weather station on Acton Lake that is part of our sensor array. For example, in Limnology in Fall 2014, students used the sensors in a whole-class, student-designed experiment conducted at Miami's Ecology Research Center. Sensors were used to used to examine how metabolism in 'mini' lake ecosystems (1000-liter pools) respond to various treatments, including experimental warming of 3°C, designed to mimic expected climate warming. Sensors were deployed continuously in this experiment, and recorded oxygen and temperature every 15 minutes for 6 weeks. Thus, students were exposed to use of the sensors as well as analysis of a large data set generated by the sensors. In Field Ecology, students use daily changes in oxygen in Acton Lake to test hypotheses about lake metabolism. These sensors also have been used in several student research projects: 5 Miami undergraduates; 3 undergraduates from other universities (but mentored by Miami faculty) who were part of Miami's Research Experience for Undergraduates summer program on Ecology in Human Dominated Landscapes; and 3 PhD students. Several of these students have made presentations on their sensor-based research (e.g., at Miami's Undergraduate Research Forum) and are authors on a paper in press (Knoll et al., Quantifying pelagic phosphorus regeneration using three methods in lakes of varying productivity. Inland Waters. In press). Another project representing a collaboration among a Miami undergraduates (Kevin Lash), an undergraduate from Vassar College who was part of our summer REU project (John Brandt) and a PhD student (Tanner Williamson), will be presented at the upcoming annual meeting of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) in Santa Fe, New Mexico (abstract accepted).

Did you submit a final report?: Yes

What happens to this project in year two?: These sensors will last well beyond a year. They will be maintained and serviced by the Center for Aquatic and Watershed Sciences. CAWS has one full-time employee, Research Associate Tera Ratliff, who has a Master's Degree in Biology and extensive experience with sensors and data management. Ms. Ratliff has maintained the oxygen/temperature sensors that we purchased in our previous Tech Fee grant, and we will continue this effective arrangement. For example, when a class or a student wants to use the sensors, Ms. Ratliff provides them and keeps records on their use. In addition, she provides basic training for students, faculty and teaching assistants. She is a permanent, full time employee, thus we can maintain this service indefinitely. Servicing of the sensors (e.g., calibration, etc.) will be provided by CAWS or faculty research/course budgets.

Hardware: EXO2 Sonde from Xylem/YSI (Dayton, OH); Aqua-Troll Sonde from In-Situ (Fort Collins, CO); and Laptop from Dell Computer, $26,985

Total Budget: $26,985

Comments: Additional faculty submitting this proposal are given below (not listed above because of space constraints): Bart Grudzinski, GEO; William Renwick, GEO María González, BIO Rachael MorganKiss, MBI Thomas Fisher, STA