Freshwater Initiative, eScience Institute Host First Waterhackweek

Waterhackweek 2019 participants at Portage Bay
Waterhackweek 2019 participants at Portage Bay (Robin Brooks / UW eScience Institute)

The UW Freshwater Initiative hosted the first Waterhackweek in partnership with the UW eScience Institute March 25 – 29, 2019 at the University of Washington (UW). At Waterhackweek, a five-day collaborative event for freshwater-related data science, water scientists from UW, other US and international universities, industry, and state departments learned about open-source technology, models, and data for conducting state-of-the-art research.

Waterhackweek participants at the opening reception
Waterhackweek participants at the opening reception (Yifan Cheng / UW Freshwater Initiative)

The hackweek model has emerged within the data science community as a powerful tool for fostering exchange of ideas in research and computation by providing training in modern data analysis workflows. In contrast to conventional academic conferences or workshops, hackweeks are intensive and interactive, facilitated by three core components: tutorials on state-of-the-art methodology, peer-learning, and on-site project work in a collaborative environment.This setup is particularly powerful for sciences that require not only domain-specific knowledge, but also effective computational workflows to foster rapid exchange of ideas and make discovery, as has been shown by the success of the previous eScience hackweeks. This is an excellent match with the nature of freshwater research where issues are sizeable and complicated and the community is diverse and synergistic.

Mornings consisted of interactive lectures, while afternoon sessions involved exploration of datasets and hands-on software development through project work in groups of four to eight people. During morning tutorial sessions, participants learned about state-of-the-art data science tools and workflows in interactive lectures covering techniques like accessing and formatting hydrometeorological datasets, leveraging community water data services, visualization, cloud computing, machine learning, Google Earth Engine, and practices for reproducible science.

Participants enjoy a Waterhackweek presentation
Participants enjoy a Waterhackweek presentation (Yifan Cheng / UW Freshwater Initiative)

On the first day of the event, interested participants were given the chance to pitch a project idea to the rest of the group. Their peers then decided which project they would like to “hack” on for the rest the week, and joined the project leaders to form project teams. Each afternoon, those small groups worked to define, clarify, and tackle different challenges in water sciences. The selected topics covered a broad spectrum of regions and subject matter, from the arid Southwest U.S. to tropical Hawaii and from Amazonian rivers to Alaskan lakes.

The teams used a diverse array of technologies to approach their chosen problems. One team explored the possibility of using a Raspberry Pi to collect and distribute water quality information during natural disasters. Another group used Google Earth Engine to model the complex dynamics of wildfire, vegetation change, surface water, and carbon release. Yet another team used Python data science and mapping libraries to visualize groundwater contaminants in California, while Conrad Koziol (Inlet Labs) and his team projected the future hydrology of the Pacific Northwest.

Explore the projects on GitHub

As part of the event, Waterhackweek participants, industry professionals, and members of the greater Freshwater Initiative and eScience Institute communities also attended Thursday evening’s Waterhackweek Community Mixer. Special guest speaker Sally Jewell, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President Barack Obama and former CEO of REI, discussed her experiences in understanding and managing water resources for the benefit of society. Waterhackweek 2019 participants also described their innovative new research in 90-second lightning talks and networked with experts in the freshwater and data science communities.

Special guest Sally Jewell speaking at the Waterhackweek Community Mixer
Special guest Sally Jewell speaking at the Waterhackweek Community Mixer (Yifan Cheng / UW Freshwater Initiative)

Thanks to our 2019 Waterhackweek organizers, including Nicoleta Cristea, Christina Bandaragoda, Anthony Arendt, Veronica Smith, Lillian McGill, Jacob Deppen, Owen Freed, Madhavi Srinivasan, and Rachael Murray.

The next Waterhackweek will take place March 23 – 27, 2020. Applications will open in August 2019 — stay tuned!