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S.C. Sea Grant Consortium Stepped Up After October Floods, Revealed a Need for Better Coordination of Available Data

Aug 10, 2017

By Andrea Sassard, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium

In early October 2015, three days of heavy rainfall in South Carolina caused widespread flooding and significant damage throughout the state. While scenes of flooded neighborhoods, failed dams, and washed out roads made headlines nationwide, the deluge also impacted water quality.

In the aftermath of the event, the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium determined there was a need for a readily accessible, common platform to illustrate and share information on hydrological and water-quality monitoring site locations. The Consortium then contacted a number of state and federal agencies and academic institutions that conduct long-term and event-based monitoring programs. The group discussed the usefulness of an integrated visualization portal to link their monitoring efforts.

A worker monitors a device in a river.

The U.S. Geological Survey used rapid-deployment gauges to better determine river levels in South Carolina during the October 2015 flooding. That sort of data can be shared using the S.C. Coastal Monitoring Network. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

“Together with these partners, the Consortium is developing a web-based visualization tool—the S.C. Coastal Water Monitoring Network,” said Rick DeVoe, Consortium executive director. “When completed, this tool will allow scientists, resource managers, policy-makers, and citizens to easily identify water resource monitoring locations. They can gather information on who is conducting the monitoring, the parameters being monitored and measured, and click on a link to the website where detailed data and information for each location can be accessed.” Partners in the effort to date include Coastal Carolina University ; College of Charleston ; S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) ; S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control ; University of South Carolina ; U.S. Forest Service ; U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) ; and North Inlet – Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve . Additional water-monitoring partners will continue to be identified and invited to join the effort. “It is interesting to see how various federal, state and local governments, universities, and non-governmental organizations respond to natural catastrophes such as the October floods,” said Dr. Paul Conrads, surface water specialist at the USGS South Atlantic Water Science Center. “There quickly is a realization of the importance of collecting monitoring data to document the extreme events but also a realization of the limitations within each agency.”

A continuous water-quality monitoring station in Winyah Bay is operated by the North Inlet – Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The station measures water-quality parameters at 15-minute intervals in both surface- and bottom-waters. Photo by Erik Smith, North Inlet – Winyah Bay NERR.

Conrads sees the visualization tool as a time-saving first step for water-resource managers and researchers, whether reacting to future events or examining archived data on historical events, such as Hurricane Hugo or the 2015 flooding. Rather than going to various databases, portals, and web pages, they can “quickly view maps with data-collection sampling locations by various data providers. The tool points the user to the source for quality assured data for the event.”

The portal provides a baseline for understanding the status of water resources and context for understanding the impacts of climate and weather events. Locations of water monitoring stations are mapped on an interactive display on the web page. Clicking on a site reveals information about each station, such as the data monitored and the organization collecting it. Users can adjust the time frame of the display to see patterns and changes in monitoring locations over time. Each site has contact information and, where available, a link to the monitoring data. Monitoring locations will be updated to reflect changes and in response to events.

Water monitoring sites can be found using the S.C. Coastal Water Monitoring Network. Points indicate long-term sites while cross marks indicate sites monitored in response to events. Clicking on a site reveals more information. Photo by Andrea Sassard, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium.

Dr. Stephen Arnott, associate marine scientist with SCDNR, expects the tool will be a convenient way to map and compare large data sources. “It allows both scientists and stakeholders to integrate a broad range of available information and also to fill data gaps that might exist within stand-alone data sources,” Arnott said. “Ultimately, we anticipate that the tool will help foster closer collaborations between agencies and facilitate future coastal management projects in South Carolina.” The S.C. Coastal Monitoring Portal was officially launched in late-August 2016.