Flow of Water Cycle Data Is Seen and Heard in WaterViz

by Jane Hodgins, Northern Research Station

Data pouring into environmental sensors on two experimental forests on opposite sides of the country are flowing into an online water cycle visualization and sonification tool that makes pattern and process in large multidimensional forest data more intuitive and easier to comprehend. The WaterViz converts data into both a visual representation and a sonification of each watershed in near real-time, giving users a new perspective on the water cycle.

Developed by a team that includes USDA Forest Service scientists and several partners, the WaterViz is poised at the nexus between the hydrologic sciences, the neurosciences, visual arts, music and education. The WaterViz will be a featured installation at the Concrete Space Gallery, Doral, Florida, as part of the Miami New Media Festival 2018. The festival, which takes place in seven cities around the world from October 2, 2018, to January 15, 2019, is designed to explore different perspectives of the relationship between water, cultural heritage, and climate change through arts and technology. A public forum discussion on the WaterViz: The Art and Science of Water Journeys will be held November 15, 2018 from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at the Concrete Space Gallery.

Lindsey Rustad, a co-creator of WaterViz, is a research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and team leader at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, one of the two watersheds presented via WaterViz. “We are not going to inspire a new generation of scientists or open Forest Service research facilities to non-traditional researchers by offering spreadsheets,” Rustad said. “Because it delivers data using a multi-sensory approach, the data presented through WaterViz is accessible to a broader audience than standard data delivery techniques.”

WaterViz delivers science to users, wherever they are, making it a tool not only for educators but for researchers who may have physical, emotional or socioeconomic challenges that limit their availability to travel to remote field sites such as Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire or HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon.

Members of the WaterViz team from the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation developed lessons plans designed around WaterViz that have the potential to engage students in ecological research regardless of whether Hubbard Brook or HJ Andrews is in their own region or on another continent.

With more than 50 years of data for each and a network of forest sensors that provide real time data on the pulse of the forest, Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest and HJ Andrews Experimental Forest are leaders in environmental change research. The USDA Forest Service's Experimental Forests are dedicated to long-term research on ecosystem processes, silviculture and forest management options, wildlife habitat characteristics, and forest growth and development. On several experimental forests, research and monitoring have been carried out for many decades and have produced long-term, irreplaceable data sets that are valuable in environmental science.

WaterViz is powered by environmental sensors that gather a wide range of data from the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest and HJ Andrews Experimental Forest. These sensors can also contribute to early warning capabilities, which can save lives and property.

The WaterViz team includes

WaterViz can be viewed at: https://waterviz.org/