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Seeing into Water in New Ways: Winners of the Visualizing Nutrients Challenge

August 12, 2015
The results are in. And the public clearly wins.

The results are in. And the public clearly wins.  

In April 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Blue Legacy International (a nonprofit organization) challenged solvers to use open government data sources to create compelling visualizations that would inform individuals and communities about nutrient pollution (high-levels of nitrogen and phosphorous that cause excessive growth of algae). 

Nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly, and challenging environmental problems. It degrades the nation’s waterways, municipal and industrial water resources, wildlife, recreation, and fishing. Nutrient pollution is far reaching and affects more than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams, close to 2.5 million acres of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, and more than 800 square miles of bays and estuaries in the United States. 

The ultimate goal for the visualization challenge is to inspire citizens to take action at the local watershed level to reduce nutrient pollution and thus help to prevent algal blooms and hypoxia. 

Here are the results of the 2015 Visualizing Nutrients Challenge. 

First Prize  

A Resource Out of Place: The Story of Phosphorus, Lake Erie, and Toxic Algal Blooms 

This visualization, created by Matthew Seibert, Benjamin Wellington, and Eric Roy, of Landscape Metrics, uses USGS monitoring data to inform individuals and communities about phosphorus runoff to Lake Erie. The authors sought to “inspire multiple stakeholders to strive toward both better resource management and improved environmental quality.”

Runners Up*  

Demonstrating creative use of open water data and effective storytelling, the following visualization submissions warranted special recognition. 

  • LA River 

    Short film illustrating nutrient levels on the Los Angeles River using a digital elevation model. 

    Catherine Griffiths, Isohale

  • How does increasing nutrients affect you?

    Animated illustration and interactive nitrogen concentration tool. 

    Amanda Winegardner

    Dr. Zofia Taranu

    Monica Granados

    Kristina Enciso

  • Visualizing Nutrients

    Interactive chart illustrating water quality results on the Loxahatchee River.

    Chris Echezabal

  • The Silent Predator of the Deep Blue: Hypoxia

    Infographic explaining hypoxia.

    Kayla Brady - Computer Aid, Inc.

    Sathya Ram - Computer Aid, Inc.

    Michael Ruiz - Computer Aid, Inc.

    Matthew Peters  - Computer Aid, Inc.

    Thaumas Mathew - Computer Aid, Inc.

  • VizNut48: Nutrient Pollution in the US Surface Waters and Management Actions

    ArcGIS map of US surface water plotting nutrient pollution results.

    Kerem Gungor

  • Visualizing Water Pollution Data Using Beck-Style Flow Path Maps

    Illustration of water systems and site results modeled after public transit maps

    Prof. Edward Aboufadel

    Department of Mathematics, Grand Valley State University 

    Daniel P. Huffman


 *  These Challenge submissions can be viewed online.  

First Place will receive $10,000. Both the Challenge Winner and Runners Up visualizations will be highlighted in a number of important forums, including a showcase at the Nutrient Sensor Summit in Washington, DC on August 12, 2015. 

The Visualizing Nutrients Challenge is part of the broader work of the Challenging Nutrients Coalition. The coalition was formed in 2013 when the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy convened a group of federal agencies, universities, and non-profit organizations to seek innovative ways to address nutrient pollution. 

This Challenge marks the starting point for further discussion and application of data visualization tools to help tell the stories of our water. Blue Legacy International, a water advocacy organization championed by global explorer Alexandra Cousteau, will promote the results of the Challenge across a variety of digital platforms, where anyone can join the discussion to advance three critical areas of data visualization for public awareness:

  • Reliable and accurate use of water data,
  • Effective and clear communication of water issues supported by data, and
  • Transformation of complex water issue into relatable, tangible stories that inspire and activate the public.

Visualizing Nutrients builds on the activities of the Open Water Data Initiative that seeks to further integrate existing water datasets and make them more accessible to innovation and decision making. The Open Water Data Initiative works in conjunction with the President's Climate Data Initiative.

For additional information, visit the prize competition website.

Visualizing Nutrients artwork
(artwork) Visualizing Nutrients #NutrientsViz

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