EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Water Informatics: Science and Engineering (WISE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Engineering Computer Science and Maths

Abstract

The global water cycle consists of a complex web of interacting physical, biogeochemical, ecological and human systems. Management of this complex cycle has been practised for decades, but new challenges lie ahead due to increasing population pressure and environmental change. These challenges can only be ad-dressed by fundamental changes, both in perspective and in practice. The recent focus on the role of water security in addressing ecosystem services and sustainability has also emphasised the need for new approaches to achieving this dual goal. This in turn requires new, whole-system, multi-faceted, data-intensive, interdisciplinary approaches to research, training and development - approaches which take advantage of the information explosion and leading-edge technologies of the 21st century. Water informatics (also known as 'hydroinformatics' or Water Information Engineering) has grown rapidly in recent years and seeks to take full advantage of the proliferation of remotely sensed information from space and ground based sensors with increasing capabilities in terms of spatial, temporal and spectral resolution. Information and knowledge gained from data allows more efficient and reliable monitoring, modelling and management of the water cycle at global, regional and local scales. Water informatics deals with the intersection of 'big data' with 'smart technologies', to deliver more sustainable water solutions over these diverse scales, enabling innovation through evidence based insight.

As the capabilities of digital devices soar and their prices plummet, sensors are providing greater amounts of information than ever, at lower costs and with greater reliability than previously possible. In addition, many more people have access to far more powerful Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools and devices (e.g., there are 6 billion mobile-phone subscriptions worldwide - 81.6 million in the UK in 2011, with over 2.5 billion people using the internet - 52.7 million in the UK in 2012). These tools also enable 'People as sensors' (crowd-sourcing), bringing together the skills of humans to observe and interpret with the interconnection of the Internet to enable new types of information to be crowd-sourced. Combining these trends provides amazing new opportunities to address old and new problems in wholly new ways to meet emerging challenges around the water cycle. Globally, it is estimated that savings of up to £8.4 billion per annum may be realised through the adoption of smart water technologies to minimize operational inefficiencies and to maximize the effect of capital and operational expenditure.

Reports by the Council for Science and Technology (2009), the Royal Academy of Engineering (2012) and the Institution of Civil Engineers (2012) have highlighted a particular shortage of engineers and scientists in industries of national importance, such as "energy, water, sanitation, communications and IT systems". The projected skills shortage in the IT sector in Europe (900,000 vacancies by 2015) has prompted the European Commission to launch a 'grand coalition' to tackle the shortage. It is difficult to envisage that the need for skilled engineers working at the interface of IT and water science and engineering disciplines will be met by IT graduates alone. The aim of the WISE CDT will therefore be to fill this skills gap by offering a postgraduate programme that fosters new levels of innovation and collaboration and trains a cohort of engineers and scientists at the boundary of water informatics, science and engineering. Furthermore, the WISE CDT will link with other traditionally separate disciplines, which are relevant to sustainable water management, ranging from statistics to social sciences, geography, psychology and economics.

Planned Impact

We will deliver the Centre's impact aims in depth and breadth through the following objectives:
1) Ensuring that skilled recruits are available to industry to enhance the global competitiveness of UK plc thereby filling an industry-identified skills gap in appropriately trained water informatics professionals - Beneficiary: Industry;
2) Maximising the recruitment opportunities for graduates, by providing them with the professional and development skills needed to succeed - Beneficiary: Students;
3) Promote the work of the CDT to the widest possible audience so that the true value of the investment in the centre is realized - Beneficiary: Communities (both public and academic);
4) Create and develop the next generation of academics - Beneficiary: Academia / Students.
Economic and Societal Impact: Water professionals are faced with increasingly complex problems of ensuring sustainable use of water resources, given a rapidly expanding demand for energy and food from a growing population, and the dynamic nature of our world. Simultaneously we see an explosion in new data and in computational power, which allows us to build more and more complex models of our environment. Organisations such as Toshiba and IBM expect the Centre to support them in developing a 'real business opportunity' in Smart Utility systems. Partners such as the Environment Agency and MET Office feel that WISE will give them access to essential skills in long term planning and climate impact assessment. HR Wallingford and Wessex Water see the opportunity to maintain and enhance their global advantage in technology and catchment management expertise. The impact on the industrial sectors relevant to this Centre will be guided and supported by our Advisory Board. To facilitate wider impact we will also work through regional and national groups, networks, and Learned Societies.
We will undertake the following activities in support of our pathways to impact:
1) Bi-Annual WISE Mini-Conference: One day events to engage current Partners and additional end-users including the student cohort and established research projects.
2) Annual 'Hackathon': A sector specific one day event will be an opportunity for the students to focus on a real industry problem and provide solutions.
3) Short Film: To facilitate outreach, we will produce a short film to promote the awareness of the centre topic and the research of its students.
4) Case Studies: We will jointly develop a number of case studies for our website to showcase research and allow industry to understand how it can benefit from engagement with the Centre.
5) Third Party Events and Activities: Our student cohort and supervisors will work with existing and new networks to develop new relationships.
6) Public Engagement: The Centre will benefit from RCUK funded "Public Engagement with Research Catalyst" projects based at Exeter, Bath and Bristol. We will also engage with the British Science Association.
Impact on Knowledge Creation: The training approach has been designed to facilitate the transfer and dissemination of knowledge. From Year 2 onwards students will work in other institutions and/or with our industry partners for 3-6 months. We have agreement from our overseas and industrial partners to host placements. In terms of the wider academic and industrial sectors, students will be expected to attend and present at leading national and international conferences, and at our bi-annual mini-conferences.
Broader Impact on Postgraduate Students: The Centre has worked with partners to develop an environment that will provide training across a wide range of interdisciplinary topics. Bespoke skills-based workshops, novel approaches and strong relationships with partners are key features of this environment. Specifically our students will undertake modules within the University of Exeter Business School, which will give them the opportunity to explore challenges facing leaders in industry around the globe.

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