Water resources symposium seeks to increase public visibility of UMN water research

“Without water, there is no life.” With those words, Al Levine welcomed the attendees of the Water Resources Assembly and Research Symposium. Levine, the University’s Vice-President for Research, shared that he realized that the visibility of the water research community was an issue when a University president asked him who was doing water research at the University. Organizers of the symposium hope that events like this will raise the water research community’s profile within the University through cooperation with its colleges and units.

The rest of the morning saw two panels of researchers and Water Resources Science students give their thoughts about the perception of water at the University of Minnesota and what the future may hold for water research. Writers, students, researchers, and center directors pointed to storytelling, core science, water body restoration, and citizen science involvement as part of bringing water to the forefront of work being done at the University as well as in society.

Vipin Kumar, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, presented the inaugural Headwaters Lecture, “Big Data in Water: Opportunities and Challenges for Machine Learning,” which addressed how machine learning can play a role in promoting water science. The goal of the new Headwaters Lecture series is to bring internationally known scholars to discuss frontier research issues with the University water community.

The afternoon session focused on shaping a new Digital Water initiative. The Water Resources Center and Minnesota Supercomputing Institute seek to invest in new resources to support data-enabled water research. The new resources will be driven by community input and may include staff, specialized software, training opportunities, or computing infrastructure. To begin the afternoon session, a series of lightning talks highlighted current examples of data-driven water research including the use of sensors, the role of socioeconomic data and spatial data mining, that is, the process of discovering interesting and previously unknown, but potentially useful patterns from spatial databases. Input to shape the Digital Water initiative was obtained from small group discussions and a survey distributed before the symposium. A poster session and reception concluded the afternoon.

Jeff Peterson, Director of the Water Resources Center said that the daylong event “illustrated that we have a diverse, engaged, and capable water resources community at the University of Minnesota. Bringing all these experts together helps to advance our collective understanding and identify new ways of tackling pressing water resources needs.”

The event was sponsored by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences and the Water Resources Center, with assistance from the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute and the Water Resources Science graduate program.