Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems
CLEANER: Project Office to Coordinate Network Activities
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CLEANER (Collaborative Large-scale Engineering Analysis Network for Environmental Research).
The goal of CLEANER is to fundamentally transform and radically advance the scientific and engineering knowledge base to address the challenges of large-scale human-dominated complex environmental systems.
- Be an integrated system of distributed, networked facilities and researchers to more readily identify knowledge gaps related to environmental quality issues;
- Enable the development of effective engineering approaches to complex, national-scale environmental problems;
- Consist of (a) interacting field sites networked through cyberinfrastructure; (b) groups of investigators studying landscapes stressed by human activities and/or highly urbanized regions; (c) specialized personnel, facilities, and technology that support the investigators, and (d) an analysis network with common modeling platforms and analysis protocols that will serve as the central organizational framework for collaborative investigations;
- Support collection of critical environmental data with advanced sensor array systems and in situ instrumentation;
- Facilitate data mining and aggregation and provide analytical tools for data visualization, exploratory data analysis, and predictive modeling of large-scale dynamic environmental management strategies;
- Enable more effective adaptive management approaches for human-dominated environmental systems based on enhanced observations, experimentation, modeling, engineering analysis, and design;
- Enable participation from a broad engineering and science community, including educators, students, practitioners, and public sector organizations and individuals, who will have access to CLEANER's equipment, data, models, and software; and
- Transform engineering education by engaging the academic community in large-scale and complex real-world problems.
Contaminants are widespread in the 21st century environment, posing threats to human life, wellbeing, and environmental sustainability at all levels. Even remote areas, such as the Arctic, now are polluted with toxic materials such as mercury and chlorinated organic chemicals, even though the human activities that generate them often are many thousands of miles away. Contaminated water resources are a special concern, with major problems documented in large rivers (e.g., the Mississippi and Hudson), coastal waters (e.g., Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay), numerous ground-water aquifers, and many lakes of all sizes. For example, despite improvements in wastewater treatment, many surface-water systems are impaired by nutrient enrichment, and pathogenic microorganisms, still common in the nation’s waters, threaten recreation and drinking water supplies. Organic chemicals and heavy metals from municipal and industrial sources pose risks to human health and to aquatic organisms.
To address the large-scale environmental problems facing the United States in the 21st century, we need fundamental knowledge of (1) the sources of contaminants and how they are linked to different types and levels of human activities; (2) the persistence, transport processes and degradation mechanisms of these contaminants; and (3) the risks they pose to the environment and humans (Ref. NRC Report "Envisioning the Agenda for Water Resources Research in the Twenty-First Century", NAS Press, 2001). Because pollutants move between air, water, and land, we need to understand the interplay between these media and how efforts to control pollutants in one compartment affect environmental quality in other media. In addition, we need more effective ways to select among management strategies (e.g., promoting the use of alternative materials versus developing enhanced waste treatment options) to address complicated environmental problems. To enable the engineering research and education communities to address these issues, the Directorate for Engineering proposes CLEANER.
VISION: CLEANER has the strategic intent to create a system where theorists, experimentalists, and computational experts collaborate on significant environmental problems, thereby identifying and resolving knowledge gaps related to these problems. This collaboration will operate using an adaptive management framework, in which management strategies are improved over time based on the knowledge gained by studying how environmental systems respond to management actions. Modeling would be the central component for analysis, knowledge synthesis, and design of further experimentation. Modeling for adaptive management would include systems analysis and life cycle assessment (LCA) models that incorporate consideration of economics, uncertainty and risk in decision-making.
The Directorate for Engineering is conducting planning that, subject to the availability of funding from the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account, may lead to construction of an integrated network focused on critical science questions related to solving large-scale environmental pollution problems. The network will have the following characteristics: (1) sets of physical, chemical, and biological sensors and instruments that will enhance collection of basic environmental data related to major pollution issues; (2) a distributed cyberinfrastructure that supports networks of researchers through real-time communications and software; (3) multi-scale modeling capabilities that interface consistently among spatial and temporal scales; (4) database systems and data-mining techniques to allow sharing of multimedia information pertaining to different environmental systems; (5) facilities to support experimental research on problems described by the observation network and defined by analysis/modeling activities; (6) support services to promote the effective shared-use and open access of these resources; and (7) capabilities to incorporate new construction or additions to existing facilities to enhance the network.
An integral component of this planning is the establishment of a Project Office to coordinate and assist with activities leading to the establishment of CLEANER. These activities first and foremost include (1) refining the key science questions (grand challenges for environmental engineering) that CLEANER will address and (2) developing a unified community vision for the facilities and infrastructure needed to address these issues. A conceptual design that describes the research, education, and outreach plans will be a natural consequence of these activities. An important task of the Project Office is to develop a community consortium that has the capability to plan, design, construct, and operate the CLEANER network.
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