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Big Red II helps predict future of fish

IU supercomputer will do the data crunching on NSF grant to create aquatic habitat data set

(This article originally appeared in the IU Bloomington Newsroom:

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—Indiana University Bloomington hydrologist Darren Ficklin has been awarded a $623,272 National Science Foundation grant as part of a collaborative project to develop a massive data set detailing conditions in streams and rivers in the United States and Canada.

The data set, to be called HydroClim, will draw on measurements and hydrological and climate modeling to provide monthly predictions of streamflow and water temperature well into the future. It will be the first data set of North American freshwater resources of this scope and resolution.

Ficklin, assistant professor in the Department of Geography in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences, is one of three principal investigators, along with Jason Knouft, associate professor in the Department of Biology at Saint Louis University, and Henry Bart, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University.

HydroClim will be integrated with information from FishNet 2, a data set developed by Bart that charts the location of fish species in North American rivers and streams. The grant for the entire project is $1.67 million over four years, awarded through the NSF Advances in Biological Informatics program.

Ficklin said HydroClim will provide valuable information that can be used by researchers, natural resource management professionals, government agencies and the general public.

“It’s a large computational project that will make use of IU’s Big Red II supercomputer to do the data crunching,” Ficklin said. “It will provide not only current data but also projections, so we can anticipate how fish might react in the future if there is less stream flow, higher water temperatures and so on.”

The researchers note that water temperature and the volume of streamflow are key factors that determine where fish can thrive. A wealth of GIS environmental data is available regarding climate conditions for terrestrial environments, but considerably less information is available about streams.

“Fish are very dependent on a certain range of water temperature,” Ficklin said. “Obviously they need to have a certain streamflow, but they also need certain temperature conditions within the stream.”

The project will use a hydrologic and water-quality model called the Soil and Water Assessment Tool, or SWAT, which includes predictions of the impact of landscape characteristics, precipitation and temperature on watershed hydrology. The model will produce detailed calculations of stream conditions based on meteorological conditions and hydrologic influences.

The data set will also include data from multiple models of future climate conditions, allowing scientists to gain a better understanding of streams’ and rivers’ sensitivity to changes in climate and their capacity for supporting freshwater biodiversity now and in the future.

The data and the results of the research will be made available for free at the project website.