Details of CLEANER
Why is CLEANER needed?
A networked infrastructure for engineering solutions and policy alternatives is necessary to assess, manage, and protect complex, stressed environmental resources effectively. Reductionist and discrete disciplinary methodologies are no longer adequate to evaluate and model complex environmental systems and anthropogenic stresses. While the reductonist approach provides important information regarding individual mechanisms, it cannot provide complete information about how multiple processes are related. Therefore, it is not possible to make accurate predictions about system responses to engineering interventions and the effectiveness of policy options. For example, experts cannot agree on best management strategies for contaminated sediments in riverine and estuarine systems. This is due, in part to the fact that existing models do not accurately capture integrated system dynamics. In addition, infrastructure is not available for investigators to exchange and archive data, to collaborate on new investigative methods, and to synthesize these results to develop engineering solutions and policy alternatives.
Our vision for the future is to create a network comprising field facilities and a collaboration of engineers, scientists, policy makers, and community groups. This will allow integration across disciplines, across different temporal and spatial scales, surface and subsurface geographies, and airsheds and watersheds. Benefits include fast response to changes in system health, real-time decision making, and continuous data collection that can be used to anticipate future problems, and to develop sound engineering solutions and management decisions.
As environmental systems become more vulnerable, we need better measurement tools and more integrated predictive models to assist in evaluating engineering alternatives and management decisions. CLEANER will provide databases that will promote the development and validation of models by reducing the need to make assumptions about mechanisms, by narrowing the uncertainty in parameter values, and by providing better information about time variability of model parameters.
Using an engineering approach, employing databases and predictive models, research conducted as part of CLEANER will define and characterize what "sustainability" means for a given system, help foresee outcomes of change, and lead to improved management of ecological systems by controlling anthropogenic inputs and applying remediation techniques.
This approach will facilitate fast responses to changes
in system health or susceptibility. Such changes may result from extreme
events, where systems are stressed beyond "linearity" or normal
bounds of behavior, or from step changes in social phenomena - such as
changes in transportation patterns, energy use, and land use, among others.
The proposed network will provide comparative information in terms of ecosystem response (e.g., is one coastal system more susceptible to degradation resulting from atmospheric deposition of nitrogen than others?) and develop ways to use comparative data to predict system responses. This approach will define the system characteristics that make a response either site-specific or more general, and will identify which policy solutions are applicable to similar environmental problems.
The CLEANER network will standardize data collection, promote standard protocols, and improve data comparability, quality assurance and quality control. Remotely accessible data archives will make data available before publication and promote external evaluation and critique of data. These archives will provide an unbiased, unaffiliated, non-political source of data for the broader community, and promote data mining for trends and research support.
An important long-term effect will be to promote collaboration, technology transfer, and communication within fields, among fields, between academic and non-academic institutions, and among stakeholders. By engaging the academic community and educators at all levels in large-scale, multi-disciplinary, and complex real-world problems, CLEANER also has the potential to systemically influence engineering education.
As a network, CLEANER will facilitate the transfer and fundamental understanding of modeling capabilities, research strategies and methodologies, and technology development. Therefore, a network will enable the identification of research trends with national implications that couldn't otherwise be detected at autonomous sites. Identification of these trends could subsequently be used to drive public policy and changes at local, regional, and national levels. Establishing CLEANER as a network will require a shift in the current culture of researchers working at distributed sites with individual outcomes to a culture that includes the pooling of capabilities, sharing of information, technology, and knowledge. While this represents a new paradigm for traditional engineering research, the contributions of individual investigators will retain importance as part of the whole. The CLEANER network will provide a broader understanding of the context of the individual research. In addition, the network provided by CLEANER will serve as a distributed tool for education and outreach. Without a network, research at the frontiers of engineering and science would proceed much more slowly and preventive and restorative technologies would be slower to develop. As a significant feature of the network, the development of models and advanced knowledge discovery will identify critical linkages between multiple interacting components that might otherwise go undetected. Furthermore, without the CLEANER network, critical resources might be directed towards less significant problems.
Urgency of need
The vision of CLEANER as an integrative network that embraces engineering and policy distinguishes it from other research initiatives. It will be the first major program to provide a comprehensive engineering approach to evaluating regional environmental impacts, accounting for biological, chemical, physical and human influences. Such an approach will establish cause-and-effect relationships with a feedback mechanism for implementing change, through both engineering and policy interventions.
Many individual and collaborative research projects in environmental engineering involve sophisticated modeling. The CLEANER program will extend the scope of modeling to the large-scale system level. The comprehensive monitoring and modeling features of CLEANER will also enable forecasting capabilities to evaluate the impacts of technical, political and social change on the study region.
Other major research initiatives have focused on natural responses in unperturbed systems. The goal of CLEANER, however, is to focus on stressed environments and on environmental resources critical to economic productivity, human health and quality of life. Such systems are inherently characterized by significant changes over a broader range of temporal scales than typical pristine environments.