FIU@Home: Explore water quality monitoring

Home is the first learning laboratory. This series brings opportunities to discover, explore and create to life-long learners everywhere. Through books, experiments, adventures and digital journeys, FIU@Home engages the whole family with fun, curated educational experiences. Don’t forget to share on social media and tag @FIUCASE.

WHAT’S IN THE WATER?
Water is one of the most essential resources on Earth. Clean, fresh water at the twist of handle is something most people have come to expect and take for granted. But it is important to remember that water comes from somewhere in the environment and it is the responsibility of everyone in our communities to conserve it and keep it clean. The healthy working ecosystems we all depend on for life and recreation are reliant on healthy water resources. Nutrients, chemicals and sediment can all have a negative effect on water quality. Water quality monitoring is no small task and is necessary to provide the objective evidence needed to make decisions that guarantee high quality water in our freshwater and marine systems today and beyond. FIU scientists have been on the front lines of providing information on the condition of our water for decades, from the Florida Everglades to Biscayne Bay and everywhere in between.

“Humans have a lot to do with why our water resources are so threatened,” Candice Allouch, Institute of Environment’s program director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships said. “It’s up to us to get involved and take action so we can restore what has been damaged. As an essential part of any creature’s survival, water keeps us alive – now it’s our turn to make sure our water resources are healthy and thriving.”

WATER QUALITY MONITORING IN ACTION – BISCAYNE BAY
The recent events in Biscayne Bay helps us better understand the role water quality monitoring can play in our community. In response to large scale fish kills, FIU researchers in the Institute of Environment rapidly mobilized to find answers. Water quality monitoring tools, such as sensors, cutting edge monitoring buoys and even an automated sampling vehicle were deployed to collect data. Water samples were analyzed in the CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment’s Nutrient Analysis Core facility. In this case, high temperature and low dissolved oxygen conditions were discovered in many of the places the fish kills were being observed. Based on the findings, the FIU Institute of Environment and its partners worked to aerate the water, swift action based on water quality science. But rapid response to disasters is only one small piece of the puzzle. Aquatic ecosystems are complex and long-term water quality research paired with comprehensive community decision making is the only way to prevent the water quality catastrophes of the future.

BACKYARD SCIENCE
With the use of remote sensing equipment, it’s not always necessary to leave the house to make meaningful scientific observations. The FIU Institute of Environment operates a network of water quality buoys that transmit data every 15 minutes and provides this data openly for the public to explore.

HOW

  1. Download this buoy table that provides explanations of each water quality parameter being logged by the buoys.
  2. Visit the Institute of Environment’s CREST research buoy website. Use the buoy map to determine the location to be investigated.
  3. Select the corresponding buoy data link to view all collected data displayed as a graph.
  4. Use the parameters drop down tab to select which parameters to display on the graph. Use the drop down tab labeled as “last day” to select a specific time frame.

TEST AND OBSERVE
At home scientists can keep an eye on local water quality in real time. Users can test their own hypotheses by selecting specific parameters of interest and adjusting the date range to be displayed. For example, select temperature and dissolved oxygen to see how these parameters are linked or research past weather data and input dates during heavy rain events to see what changes can be observed. Interested in the bigger picture? A comprehensive assessment of regional coastal waters is provided by the Water Quality Monitoring Network directed by Research Professor Henry Briceno.

GET INVOLVED
Reducing the use of fertilizers to limit phosphorus and nitrogen inputs, maintaining septic systems and simply reporting suspected water quality issues are all important actions individuals can take to be good stewards of our water and aquatic ecosystems. The Institute of Environment hosts a number of webinars that are free and open to the public. Volunteers can join the ranks of FIU citizen scientists to assist in the collection of data on sea level rise and tidal flooding. Every member of our community has a role to play in conserving our most important shared resource. Tag @FIUCASE and @FIUEnvironment to share your observations and the steps you take in becoming a water warrior.

There’s so much waiting to be found right outside the back door. Whether in the yard or around the neighborhood, go on an expedition to complete missions grounded in the science that exists all around. Follow FIU@Home on CASE News for more backyard science.