GLOS in action

Posted by: GLOS_Admin April 7, 2017

The Great Lakes Observing System serves as a data source for researchers and stakeholders around the basin. Here’s one example of how GLOS data gets added value as an information product from Wisconsin Sea Grant. 

To swim or not to swim? Come Memorial Day, this question will be at the forefront of every beach manager’s mind on a near daily basis – and it is not an easy one to answer. The traditional culture-based method of measuring E. coli takes around 18 hours to yield results and forces beach managers to post swim advisories for today using yesterday’s water quality results.

Enter Virtual Beach (VB) – free, predictive modeling software that walks users through the process of developing, evaluating, and operating statistical models to predict (or ‘nowcast’) water quality in near real-time, based on field-observed and/or remotely-measured environmental conditions. Public health professionals and researchers from across the United States use Virtual Beach to inform beach-specific decision such as:

  • Whether to issue (or lift) swim advisories/closures on a given day
  • What type of lab test (if any) to run on a given day
  • Where and how to prioritize long-term remediation efforts

As part of the continuing GLOS project, “Expand the Use of IOOS Web Services for Cost-Effective and Sustainable Decision-Support at Coastal Beaches,” the University of Wisconsin (UW) Sea Grant and the USGS Office of Water Information are working to support and expand the use of nowcasting in the Great Lakes beach community. One of the focuses of outreach is Environmental Data Discovery and Transformation (EnDDaT) an online tool that compiles and processes data from multiple sources (e.g. NOAA Great Lakes Coastal Forecast System and USGS).  A feature that connects Virtual Beach directly to EnDDaT allows users to build web-based models that do not require any field data to operate.  

A challenge for many beach managers looking to implement Virtual Beach is the associated learning curve. Like with any new software, an initial time investment and community network for continued tech support is required for success. This is why the outreach work supported by GLOS is vital for beach managers to reap the full cost-saving benefits of a nowcast model.

Donalea Dinsmore, Wisconsin’s beach program manager, emphasizes the importance of this work for their beach managers.

“As both people and money resources have been squeezed over the last couple of years, out of necessity more communities have been willing to work with Virtual Beach. We were fortunate to have someone who could do some ‘hand holding’ during the implementation phase.  This is key to building confidence in changing the decision-making process.  We face decision errors head on and are realistic about what our beach monitoring tools can and cannot do.”

Lindsey Page, beach manager at the Milwaukee Health Department, describes the value of VB to their beach monitoring program.

“Virtual Beach provides us with more real-time water quality information to help inform decision-making processes around beach advisories and closures. We are looking forward to exclusively using VB for decision-making in 2017 at Bradford Beach. We also look forward to working toward developing successful VB models to be used for all of the City’s beaches in the future. We plan to continue to use VB because it will allow us to communicate more timely and accurate water quality information to our community.”

As one of the first to implement VB in Wisconsin, the city of Racine has valuable insight on the evolution of the software and can speak to the importance of developing a VB community.

“Virtual Beach in and of itself has evolved into a particularly useful tool, now more so than ever, since EnDDat has come online and gradually been incorporated into the software… I expect while this is a great benefit, it is also adding to the learning curve and difficulty to some local officials when attempting to build a predictive model. UW Sea Grant helps alleviate this burden through training and facilitating working groups that ease someone into the whole modeling process. Pairing the model data with sanitary data allows us to anticipate false positive events that might arise from qPCR testing and would allow us to keep our beaches open for swimming. That said it would be our goal in the near future to utilize predictive models for day-to-day monitoring and detection of potential advisories. “

Stephan R. Kurdas, Coordinator of Laboratory Services, City of Racine Public Health Department
Over the next few months, UW Sea Gant will be conducting VB workshops and site visits to help beach managers prepare for the start of swim season. We look forward to the continual growth of Virtual Beach and hope that you get the chance to enjoy the benefits of it this summer!


(Courtesy Elisabeth Schlaudt)