The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Gleason and Taneja Funded by NASA to Develop Software System for Estimating Water Discharge for Almost Every River on Earth

Colin Gleason (left) and Jay Taneja (right)

Colin Gleason (l) & Jay Taneja (r)

Dr. Colin J. Gleason (Principal Investigator) of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and Dr. Jay Taneja of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have received a four-year, $779,966 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). “The gist,” explains Taneja, “is that we are building a software system that will enable hydrologists to improve estimates of water discharge from nearly every river in the world.”

Taneja goes on to say that “Our system will bring together a decade of algorithm development with the data from an exciting NASA satellite that is to be launched in 2022.”

As Gleason explains about that 2022 satellite launch, “NASA, together with the space agencies of France, the UK, and Canada, is launching the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite to provide transformational data to the ocean science and hydrology communities. In particular, work for the past decade has proven that SWOT’s novel data should be able to estimate river discharge at global scales following algorithms in development during this decade.”

Hence, Gleason and Taneja say they plan to develop, implement, and maintain a cloud-based, open-source software system capable of producing the parameters needed by NASA for the official discharge product for every river in the SWOT River Database.

Gleason says that UMass Amherst will be the “final stop” for all information needed to produce discharge at the global scale from SWOT. “We will provide a platform to amalgamate all existing work, knowledge, and insight into an efficient, open source, and comprehensive software platform,” as Gleason says.

Gleason and Taneja have named their system “Confluence” because it merges a decade of previous theoretical work, SWOT data, and a community approach to estimating discharge.

“Having this single software system will prevent redundancies, improve efficiency, and ensure the best discharge product possible is delivered on time to NASA and the public,” says Gleason. “Our open source and containerized software can run on any operating system, cluster, or cloud, and thus individual scientists, NASA, and the public can pursue their own discharge goals on their own terms while we, at the same time, deliver on mission discharge requirements at the global scale.”

Gleason and Taneja say they are motivated by one driving scientific question: “What is the best way to combine prior databases and SWOT observations to estimate global river discharge?”

As Gleason and Taneja conclude about their research team, “The computer engineering personnel are experts in machine learning and big data for infrastructure and environmental systems. Confluence will have access to all global SWOT data, a rich database of prior information from NASA, and numerous discharge estimates from different physical inversion platforms: an unprecedented volume of data.” (June 2020)