- Water quality and scarcity are increasingly important areas of study
- University of Hawai’i science gateway aggregates water research to better understand wells and watersheds
- Gateway will be a resource for scientists, the community, and officials who make water policy decisions
An estimated 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water worldwide. As the water systems that keep our taps running and our crops fed continue to be strained by a growing population and increasing pollution, the problem is expected to get worse.
This threat is not lost on Hawai’i, a cluster of islands that faces a unique set of challenges due to its isolation and its unique volcanic geophysics.
“Hawai’i typically has only about three days’ worth of resources if airplanes and boats stop coming. You’re far out if you need to get fresh water,” says Sean Cleveland, lead software architect at the University of Hawai’i’s (UH) ‘Ike Wai gateway.
“People here are very concerned about fresh water. The only other recharge for that water is rainfall—there are no rivers or anything that are feeding more water into the system--it’s pretty much just precipitation.”
‘Ike Wai (meaning “knowledge” +“water”) is a platform dedicated to ensuring Hawai’i’s water security through research, education, and community engagement.
“The idea is to aggregate water data resources,” Cleveland says. “We want to gather more information about watersheds and other water data in Hawai'i into one place so that scientists can have access to these software tools and computational resources.”
Although the project has been in the works for about three years, the gateway went online just a few months ago. Right now, most of the users are the researchers who make up the ‘Ike Wai program. While some are looking at the geophysics of Hawai’i relating to water, others are performing microbial testing on the state’s various wells and watersheds.
“They’re trying to see if they can figure out some interconnectivity between wells in different places based on the fingerprint of their microbial communities,” Cleveland explains. “If there are organisms in this water and also in that water, then they may be interconnected in some way.”
The hope is that, like the watersheds of Hawai’i, the gateway will serve as an interconnected resource for the community at large, scientists, and public officials who make the decisions about water policies in the state.
To do this, Cleveland says ‘Ike Wai uses XSEDE resources, including Jetstream, a cloud environment designed to provide interactive computing and data analysis to researchers. They’re also looking into using the Stampede2 supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to supplement the capacity of UH’s own high performance computer cluster.
Because the system is still new, Cleveland says one of the biggest challenges in developing the gateway is the initial lack of data. They’ve combatted this by, at first, importing information from other repositories. They’re also exploring methods used by agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that require researchers to deposit their data when using the gateway.
But the more data they collect, the greater the responsibility to keep it secure.
“Any device that’s connected to the internet is going to have cybersecurity issues associated with it,” says Cleveland. “If it gets infiltrated, it can become a vector for infecting or infiltrating other infrastructure the network is on.”
Without appropriate security measures, hackers could use the tool as a literal gateway into UH’s system at large—which houses valuable student and other data. Which is why they’ve partnered with Trusted CI to conduct a cybersecurity assessment.
“We need to make sure people can trust that they can use our gateway securely and are confident they’re not going to have their data or their products stolen and published out from underneath them.”
Cleveland and his team are also working with the Science Gateways Community Institute to ensure the ‘Ike Wai gateway is as accessible and easy to use as possible for researchers, policy makers, and citizens.
This includes a data visualization tool they’ve been developing with the United States Geological Survey (USGS). ‘Ike Wai is ingesting USGS data into their gateway to provide water managers with scenario tests that can inform their decisions on how to use available land for things like farming.
“Water is really important to a lot of folks, but we’ve discovered that some of our water infrastructures are not as good as we always thought,” says Cleveland. “We’re providing the tools so that we can better plan and better utilize our water resources. Clean drinking water and access to water is going to be a big thing going forward.”