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February 2018 - Issue 7
Welcome to the Battelle Environment Matters e-newsletter, a publication from Battelle. We are providing this as a service to our environmental clients to keep you informed of the latest news from our researchers and the industry.
Battelle provides objective, scientifically sound solutions for commercial and government clients that balance environmental, human health and economic concerns. Battelle Environment Matters will keep you up-to-date on cutting-edge environmental research and innovations for environmental remediation, restoration, assessment, monitoring and characterization.
It’s not always easy to visualize what is happening beneath the surface of the earth. But what if you could sink down through several geologic layers and take a look around?
Using new tools under development at Battelle, environmental researchers and remediation professionals will be able to do just that—virtually, at least. Battelle is developing Virtual Reality (VR)-based software that turns 3-D Conceptual Site Models (CSMs) of subsurface geology and hydrology into virtual environments that allow users to move through and interact with the data in a variety of ways. VR lets users view a CSM in a manner that puts them into the sub-surface model and provides a visual perspective that is not possible with traditional 3-D model viewers.
CSMs are used to understand and communicate the subsurface features of a contaminated site and make decisions on mitigation and remediation strategies. 3-D models help researchers visualize how contaminants move through geologic layers and are transported with the flow of groundwater. Good models provide potential scenarios of the fate and transport of contaminants through the environment and can be used to guide remediation and long-term monitoring plans.
Popular environmental modeling programs such as EarthVision turn field data into detailed 3-D subsurface models showing geologic layers, groundwater flow direction, contaminant plumes and man-made features such as monitoring wells and pipelines. Researchers can look at cross sections of the 3-D model and capture screenshots of different views. They can also run different scenarios within the model, for example watching the development of contaminant plumes and the movement of contaminants over time and under different conditions.
These models provide valuable information, but it is not always easy for human researchers to interact with them and visualize the complex 3-D environments that they depict. VR software allows users to get a more intuitive understanding of all of the variables that make up the 3-D model and interact with the information in different ways.
Jim Hicks, a geologist and geographic information system (GIS) analyst at Battelle, said, “We wanted to give people a better visual perspective and let them see their CSM from inside the model. This gives users the freedom to walk into the geologic setting of their site and focus on what they feel is important in decision making, in the level of detail they wish to see it.”
Battelle’s VR environmental modeling software uses EarthVision as the basis for building the 3-D model. This model is then turned into a virtual reality environment that users can interact with using the VIVE™ VR hardware system.
Inside the VR model, users can virtually walk through and look around the subsurface geology and interact with the data by simply turning their heads or gesturing. For example, users will be able to point to a certain area to zoom in, use a hand gesture to highlight specific data, and move through layers of the model to see features or data that may be hidden behind other layers. In this way, VR enables greater understanding of complex data and geologies. Matt Kromer, the Battelle engineer leading the software design of the tool, explains that this interactivity is one of the key benefits that VR provides for environmental researchers. He says, “The more complex a site is and the more data you are trying to visualize, the greater the value that VR will bring for users. It provides better perspective and control and a more intuitive way to interact with data.”
Battelle’s VR model builds on decades of work in environmental site characterization and modeling and more recent VR research and development. Battelle has worked with government and commercial clients to characterize contaminated sites, complete CSMs and design remediation plans for more than 25 years. The team working on the program brings a unique blend of cutting-edge VR software development experience and deep environmental science expertise.
Jim has been working with EarthVision and other environmental modeling programs for more than 20 years.
“Our environmental model needs to be scientifically valid and use data correctly in order to be useful. That requires an understanding not just of VR but also of geology, hydrology, fluid dynamics, contaminant properties and many other variables that go into building the model,” he said.
Battelle’s VR environmental modeling software, which was created as an internal research and development project, is still under development. Battelle is currently gathering feedback from clients to develop a better understanding of how they might use the visualization tool and collect input to guide continued development.
“We are still just scratching the surface of VR’s potential as a useful visualization aide. That being said, we feel that VR could be used right now to add value to data interpretation on many of our current projects,” Jim said.
How long does it take for benthic communities to recover after being disturbed? What impact does dredged material placement or waste from fish processing operations have on the local environment? What kinds of contaminants are present in ocean bottom sediments and how do they impact marine ecosystems?
For more than 30 years, researchers at Battelle have been working to answer these and other questions about coastal and marine ecology. Battelle conducts offshore and deep-water environmental studies to understand and monitor the impact of dredged material disposal, oil & gas operations, remediation efforts and other human activities on marine ecosystems. These studies include investigations of the bathymetry, topography, wind, waves, currents, sediment and water quality, and other environmental conditions of offshore locations.
In recent years, Battelle’s offshore work has taken the team to sites across the country, from the north slope of Alaska to the Gulf Coast. Recent projects have included environmental surveys and monitoring of sites off the coasts of Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington.
Much of this work has been completed in support of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Office of Water and Regional Offices. Under our EPA contract, Battelle conducts surveys of Ocean Dredged Material Disposal Sites (ODMDS) to determine the environmental impact of disposal of dredged material from harbors and waterways. The team has completed similar studies for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) including participation in the DAMOS (disposal area monitoring system) Program, which involves monitoring ODMDSs from Long Island Sound to the coast of Maine. Other offshore work includes environmental surveying and monitoring of background levels of contaminants for commercial oil & gas companies and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and assessing the impacts from in-place contaminated sediments for the U.S. Navy.
Depending on the needs of the study, Battelle may deploy a variety of methods, including:
The methods and equipment used for each study are tailored to the unique characteristics of the site and the scientific questions the study seeks to answer. Sometimes, this requires modifying off-the-shelf equipment and developing new methods for work in challenging environments. For a deep-water dredged material disposal study near Hawaii, the team had to find ways to modify field sampling equipment typically used in shallow water environments to achieve successful results at depths up to 2,000 meters. Rough seas and deep water near Alaska and in other locations have also required skill and creativity to obtain high-quality results using video sleds, multi-beam echo sounders and SPI equipment. Plume tracking using ADCP was made possible with the use of real-time software for plume visualization developed by Battelle.
Battelle can manage all aspects of an offshore or deep-water study, from chartering vessels and collecting field samples to analyzing data and producing interpretive reports. In addition to collecting field data, Battelle provides analytical laboratory capabilities for analysis of water and sediment samples and biological tissues. Sediments collected from offshore dredged material disposal sites are typically tested for a broad range of organic and inorganic contaminants such as PCBs, dioxins, total organic carbon, butyltins and metals, in addition to conducting physical measurements of grain size. Battelle also conducts statistical analysis of data, manages large datasets in database environments and helps clients manage and interpret results so they can make more effective environmental decisions.
These decisions range from the selection of new reference sites for dredged material disposal studies in Texas to assessing the chemical and benthic composition of bottom sediments that could be disturbed in the future due to oil and gas operations in Alaska. The companies and agencies who come to Battelle for offshore environmental work know they will get more than just standardized field sample collection and analysis. The Battelle environmental services team brings together expertise in marine and coastal ecology, site remediation, sediment management, physical oceanography, analytical chemistry, biology and related fields. This expertise allows us to work with clients to design studies that collect the right data to answer the questions at hand, interpret the results for effective decision making, and guide the selection of remedies or long-term monitoring strategies.
Battelle is currently working with government and commercial clients on offshore projects across the country. Some of these projects are taking the team into deeper waters and more challenging environments. The team continues to refine methods to improve the accuracy of data collection in these diverse environments so our clients can answer critical scientific questions about the impact of human activities on the health of our oceans.
The Journal of Environmental Management has released a special issue focusing on emerging trends in environmental remediation. Global Trends in the Environmental Remediation Industry features invited articles from the Battelle Chlorinated Conference that reflect key global trends and highlight prospects for improving remediation management and cleanup results.
Key themes for the special issue were identified through a collaboration of guest editors—including Dr. Heather Rectanus and Wendy Condit of Battelle— who used an innovative data mining approach to gain insights from 4,000+ abstracts submitted over the past decade.
The special edition was released in December 2017 and is now available for purchase.