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Development Of A Virtual Hydrologic Observatory For Integration Of Field Observations And Model Simulations Into Engineering Hydrology Courses

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.410.1 - 15.410.13

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Paper Authors

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Emad Habib University of Louisiana, Lafayette

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Carloina Cruz-Neira University of Louisiana at Lafayette


Yuxin Ma University of Louisiana at Lafayette

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Dr. Yuxin Ma is a Researcher at the Center for Innovative Learning Assessment Technologies and an Assistant Professor in the Curriculum and Instruction department at UL-Lafayette. Dr. Ma holds a Bachelor's degree in English language and literature, a Master's degree in school psychology, and a Ph.D. in instructional technology. She has seven years of experience in developing Web applications and computer-based instructional programs. Her research focuses on conducting design-based research on emerging technologies and learning strategies in innovative learning environments, electronic performance support systems, and knowledge management systems.

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Douglas Williams University of Louisiana at Lafayette

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Director of the Center for Innovative Learning Assessment Technologies and an associate professor of instructional technology in the College of Education. He holds bachelor and masters degrees in computer science from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He completed a doctoral degree in Instructional Technology at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Williams worked as a programmer for more than 10 years in the United States, Sweden and Australia.

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Development of a Virtual Hydrologic Observatory for Integration of Field Observations and Model Simulations into Engineering Hydrology Courses Abstract

This study reports on the development of a virtual-reality hydrologic observatory that integrates field observations collected in a real watershed, with the capabilities of a process- based hydrologic numerical model that simulates rainfall-runoff processes in the same watershed. The educational observatory aims to: (1) facilitate the introduction of field experience and observational skills into hydrology courses using innovative virtual techniques, and (2) develop students' knowledge and investigative skills on rainfall-runoff processes through the use of interactive and visually-supported hydrologic simulations, and (3) instill in the students the concept that data and models complement each other and that model predictions are not perfect and should be always checked against independent observations.. The observatory mimics students’ experience during a real visit to the watershed where they can virtually download and analyze data from various hydrologic instruments. The conceptual design of the observatory is based on teaching the students with the model, instead of teaching them about the model. The simulation component of the observatory is built on a distributed process-based hydrologic model to allow for physical representation and simulation of important rainfall-runoff processes and provide spatially-detailed predictions at any location in the watershed. The observatory combines visual and quantitative information where students can visualize the watershed and its processes, but can also extract quantitative information and perform further analyses. The visualization techniques of the observatory are built using a set of Open Source tools so that it can be easily distributed to interested users through a web site. The observatory can be used to support various learning modules on field investigations, analysis of natural variability of hydrologic variables, visualization of runoff processes, and hypotheses testing. The observatory can be introduced in hydrologic engineering courses or other related earth-science courses.

1. Introduction

Hydrology is the science that deals with the occurrence, distribution and circulation of water and its interaction with the different physical, chemical, and biological processes of the earth system, [NRC1]. Hydrology education still relies largely on engineering programs as the main academic base for the majority of those who specialize in hydrology. A recent survey of more than 150 hydrology educators (Wagener et al.2) reported that about 35% of them teach in engineering departments, and that most of them (43%) obtained their highest degree from engineering departments. Despite the significant influence of engineering programs on shaping the education of professional hydrologists, most courses in engineering hydrology curricula focus largely on empirical approaches and relationships and simplified analysis and modeling tools. Therefore, numerous national and international reports (Nash et al.3; NRC4) have highlighted the need for improving existing undergraduate hydrology curriculum, especially in two areas: observations and modeling. As discussed by McDonald5, deficiencies in field components in hydrologic education will lead to adverse effects on the quality of graduating students. Students will lack appreciation of spatial and temporal variability of hydrologic

Habib, E., & Cruz-Neira, C., & Ma, Y., & Williams, D. (2010, June), Development Of A Virtual Hydrologic Observatory For Integration Of Field Observations And Model Simulations Into Engineering Hydrology Courses Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky.

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