The Kentucky & West Virginia SENSE Program: Sensing and Educating the Nexus to Sustain Ecosystems

Grants and Contracts Details


The focus area of this proposal is "Sustainable Food, Energy, and Water Systems" and is a collaboration between the EPSCoR jurisdictions of Kentucky and West Virginia. Our proposal focus will be on enhancing sensor research and education to address emerging water quality issues. The overarching research goal of this proposal is to utilize advanced real-time sensor systems, to educate faculty and students in their use and applications, and to enhance collaborative research opportunities between Kentucky and West Virginia by applying advanced technology to an emerging environmental problem common to both states. Our focused ecological problem is the emerging world-wide increase in catastrophic toxic algal blooms (CyanoHABs) that has taken center stage in reservoirs, lakes, and rivers and recently has occurred in waters shared by the two states. Changes in agricultural practices and the role of power generation have added to the hydrocomplexity of rivers, reservoirs, and lakes. New technology combined with new and existing models and geospatial data are required to better recognize and understand emerging water quality problems. Better water quality forecasting and management capabilities are essential components of the proposed research and education. This also will require training the next generation of scientists and educating citizen scientists who are the hands, ears, and eyes of the environment. Kentucky and West Virginia are states where sensor expertise and technology are limiting factors. The focus on a specific outcome will permit a more coherent collaboration between the two states that will lead to interdisciplinary partnerships (e.g., biology, engineering, environmental science) and advance intellectual capacity translatable to water quality issues in general. The proposed research is designed to advance current research capacity, to produce a nationally competitive program as well as overcome existing research deficiencies of the two states. Data from real-time sensor platforms to storage to visualizations to modeling will be accomplished through a common data hub that will be integrated with CUAHSI HIS tools and a DataOne node. Available long-term data sets also will be accessible through the system. The system will better focus faculty training, graduate and undergraduate education, and engagement/outreach in a rapidly emerging field. The specific biochemical mechanisms behind CyanoHABs blooms are only somewhat understood. The primary cause of recent CyanoHAB blooms in Lake Erie was determined to be phosphorus from agricultural runoff inputs through the Maumee River with secondary inputs from Cuyahoga and Detroit rivers. Excess phosphorus coupled with warm water temperatures produce optimal conditions for blooms that generally occur in mid- to late summer. Using the Maumee River as the primary source of phosphorus to western Lake Erie, NCCOS, GLERL, LimnoTech, and others have developed predictive models that can be generally applied to algal blooms in other water bodies. The more than 1000 km long 2015 bloom that appeared in the Ohio River presents additional layers of complexity where conditions leading to blooms may be more diffuse and require a greater understanding of contributions from both land and water resource use including the effects of reservoirs (hydropower/non-hydropower), power generation, and sewage treatment. Models can be highly effective in predicting the conditions that lead to CyanoHAB blooms. Near real-time sensing can then lead to understanding what actually happens before, during, and after a bloom at appropriate biogeochemical time scales.
Effective start/end date8/1/167/31/21


  • Murray State University: $1,226,832.00


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