National Aquatic Resource Surveys Data Analysis Innovation Challenge
On this page:
- Challenge Description
- How to Enter
- Important Dates
- Helpful Resources
- Questions & Answers
- Contact the NARs Team
Water is one of the most precious resources on earth yet its quantity and quality is threatened by numerous factors. EPA is inviting scientists and other stakeholders to examine questions using data from the National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS) relating to national priorities including climate change, environmental justice, nutrient management, and other water quality challenges.
Each winner or winning team will receive a prize of $5,000. Winners may receive national recognition for their university or organization as well as for the students, scientist, and project activities by being featured on the NARS Data Challenge webpage. Winners may be invited to present at webinars, conferences and/or other events including reaching EPA, state/tribal, and other water quality specialists. Applicants are encouraged to submit an intent to participate by May 31, 2022 and final entries are due September 30, 2022.
NARS is a collaborative program implemented by EPA, states, and tribes to assess the quality of the nation's coastal waters, lakes and reservoirs, rivers and streams, and wetlands. These surveys provide a point in time assessment of the condition of these resources, identify the extent of key stressors, and track changes over time.
The surveys, implemented on a five-year rotating basis among water body types, are in the fourth cycle (National Lakes Assessment, NLA 2022). The four surveys that make up NARS are the National Coastal Condition Assessment (NCCA), National Lakes Assessment (NLA), National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA), and the National Wetlands Condition Assessment (NWCA). For each survey, EPA selects sampling locations using a statistical survey design and crews use consistent methods to collect data at more than 1,000 sites during a summer index period. There are now more than 20 years of chemical, physical and biological data available, including newly released data from the four most recently completed surveys. Example data include benthic macroinvertebrates, fish, vegetation, zooplankton, nutrient concentrations, sediment chemistry, soil chemistry, physical habitat measurements, microcystin concentrations, and others. These datasets provide an unparalleled opportunity to conduct scientific research on issues of national importance, analyze patterns and associations among co-located variables, and explore innovative approaches to improve assessments of water quality.
What makes the NARS datasets unique?
- Randomized site selection – results of each survey represent the broad population of waters, not just the sites sampled
- NARS uses a Generalized Random Tessellation Stratified design to draw a stratified, unequal weighted set of sites to be sampled (see more on application of site weights below).
- Each survey has a specific target population to which assessments apply. “Target population” is a statistical term and refers to the specific waters of interest for the survey. The target population for each survey is detailed in the associated quality assurance project plans (available at https://www.epa.gov/national-aquatic-resource-surveys/manuals-used-national-aquatic-resource-surveys) and described on the EPA NARS website. For example, the target population for the National Lakes Assessment 2012 and 2017 includes all lakes in the conterminous U.S. greater than 1 hectare in size and one meter of depth.
- Consistent field and lab protocols
- Each survey includes chemical, physical and biological data that are collected at all sites using standard field and lab methods. Core indicators for each survey are repeated over time so that changes and trends can be analyzed.
- All crews are trained to conduct field sampling following the standardized protocols.
- Spatial coverage
- Spatial coverage for each of the surveys includes the conterminous United States.
- Temporal coverage
- For any given survey cycle (e.g., NCCA 2015 or NCCA 2020), the sites are sampled once during the index period with 10% of the sites revisited that summer for quality control purposes. A portion of sites are resampled during the next survey cycle (i.e., 5 years later) while a portion of the sites are new. The use of a consistent index period allows comparison across survey cycles.
How and why to use weights?
Weighting is a statistical method that ensures each sampled unit from the statistical survey design is properly represented in a final population estimate. A site with a weight of “5” in the NLA site information files means that site represents 5 lakes (+/- the margin of error) within the target population while a site with a weight of “247” means that site represent 247 lakes (+/- the margin of error) within the target population.
Weights for the national surveys are found in the applicable survey’s site information file on the NARS website. These weights are necessary to create population estimates. Population estimates for national, regional or other subpopulations of interest can be produced using SP Survey package (https://github.com/USEPA/spsurvey). EPA also developed an R Shiny tool which makes application of functions in SP Survey easier to use. This tool can be found at https://github.com/USEPA/NARS-Population-Estimate-Shiny-Tool.git. These tools calculate the appropriate margin of error associated with the estimates. Additionally, the NARS reports and related dashboards provide population estimates for many indicators. Although the use of weights or population estimates are not required for submissions, bonus points are available for those who do use them.
For more information on NARS see https://www.epa.gov/national-aquatic-resource-surveys.
What is the Challenge?
The EPA Office of Water invites graduate students, scientists, academics, statisticians, and other analysts to apply the NARS data to examine questions related to national priorities including climate change, environmental justice, nutrient management, and other critical water quality challenges. EPA encourages individuals and teams of researchers that incorporate a variety of disciplines (e.g., environmental science, biology, ecology, geochemistry, statistics, economics, health and social sciences) to apply.
Through this Challenge, OW is seeking analysis of the data generated by NARS, alone or in combination with other data, to:
- Identify signals or patterns of a changing climate in the data including measures of resiliency and the effectiveness of mitigation on the health of aquatic resources.
- Uncover patterns of inequity in the distribution of healthy or degraded waters related to EJ metrics such as income, race, etc.
- Support efforts to assess nutrient water quality and more effectively protect and restore waters from nutrient pollution.
- Contribute to the continuous improvement of NARS and other monitoring and programs.
- Phase I: submit intent materials (Attachment A) to NARSemail@example.com
- Phase II: submit application materials (Attachment C) to NARSfirstname.lastname@example.org
- Phase I Opens: January 31, 2022
- Informational Webinar: February 9, 2022 at 3:00 PM EST.
- View the webinar recording here.
- Suggested due date for submission of intent: May 31, 2022
- Submissions officially due: September 30, 2022 by 11:59 PM EST
- Phase I Winners Announced: November 30, 2022
Current graduate students (Masters or PhD program) affiliated with an accredited college or university are welcome to apply. Research scientists including postdoctoral researchers, non-profit research organizations, academics, and scientists from other organizations are welcome to apply. Applicants may apply singly or as a team. Applicants must be U.S. citizens. Federal employees are not eligible to apply.
EPA will award up to three prizes in each category based on the criteria in Attachment B. One prize in each category will be reserved for eligible graduate students, postdoctoral researchers or teams of eligible students. Each winner or winning team will receive a prize of $5,000. Winners may receive national recognition for their university or organization as well as for the students, scientist, and project activities by being featured on the NARS Data Challenge webpage. Winners may be invited to present at webinars, conferences and/or other events including reaching EPA, state/tribal, and other water quality specialists.
EPA reserves the right to award fewer than three prizes in a category or no prizes.
To be eligible to win a cash prize, applicants must meet the following requirements:
- Have submitted an Intent to Participate application to NARSemail@example.com.
- Use NARS data from one or more surveys (i.e. data from at least one of the following: National Lakes Assessment (NLA) 2007, National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA) 2008-2009, National Coastal Condition Assessment (NCCA) 2010, National Wetlands Condition Assessment (NWCA) 2011, NLA 2012, NRSA 2013-2014, NCCA 2015, NWCA 2016, NLA 2017, NRSA 2018-2019)
- Address questions at the national, regional or other subpopulation area of interest such that results are applicable broadly.
- Complete and attach the Challenge Application form with your Research Project/Report submission (see Attachment C).
- Identify the Challenge Category under which the project is to be evaluated (choose one only).
- Meets any other requirements of the individual Category selected (see the main Challenge description on Challenge.gov).
- Submit a Research Project/Report that
- Includes the following items:
- Names and affiliations of the author/coauthor(s)
- Clear identification of which NARS datasets were used
- Does not exceed 20 single-sided pages (10 double-sided) (including graphics/figures) with three additional pages allowed for references/citations. Additional pages can also be included to submit faculty support/recommendations and will not count against the page limit.
- Meets the following font and formatting requirements:
- Calibri or Times New Roman font size 11 or 12.
- Margins are ½ inch or larger on all sides.
- Submitted in Word or PDF. If the submission includes a tool or application, it must be in a format that EPA can access and review. If you are unsure whether EPA will be able to access your planned tool/application, please contact us at NARSfirstname.lastname@example.org.
- Includes the following items:
- If submitting as a student or student team include proof that authors, with the exception of academic advisors serving as co-authors, are currently enrolled in a graduate program or postdoctoral position. If EPA determines the submitted information is insufficient, the entry will still be considered but not as a student project.
- Submit your Challenge research report/project by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on September 30, 2022 to NARSemail@example.com.
- Winning projects will be posted on an EPA webpage and announced in November 2022.
- Entries may be used by EPA (e.g., on EPA social media accounts and webpages) in connection with this challenge and may be used in the production, distribution, promotion of the program at public meetings/conferences, and online posting thereof.
- Solvers retain their rights to all intellectual property (e.g., details and design of their technology) that may be disclosed to the sponsors over the course of the challenge. Technical details will not be disclosed or published without permission from the technical point of contact named in the registration.
- Sponsors retain the right to publish, present, and/or otherwise publicize results of the challenge competition that does not involve the disclosure of intellectual property of the Solver(s). Solvers will be afforded to review publications, presentation, or other publicity in order to protect against unwanted disclosure of intellectual property.
- Solvers reserve the right to remove themselves from the competition at any time, up to final submission of results for evaluation, by notifying the sponsor in writing. The technical point of contact must make the request in writing on behalf of his/her team.
- Registration for the challenge does not confer any obligation to deliver results. However, any solvers removing themselves from the competition prior to evaluation forfeit the rights to publish results obtained for the reference samples supplied for the competition without written consent from the challenge sponsors.
- Solvers that do not submit their results and technology description template by the submission deadline will be automatically removed from the competition and subject to the same terms as if they had forfeited in writing. The submission deadline may be extended at the discretion of the sponsors, but any extension will apply to all registered solvers.
EPA and EPA officials do not endorse any product, service, or enterprise that may appear in submitted projects. Furthermore, by recognizing winning projects, EPA is not endorsing any products, services, or enterprises that may appear in those applications.
Clarity and Significance of Research Question and Approach (40 points)
- Relationship of project and results to NARS Prize Category Objectives (10)
- Degree to which the application incorporates social science research as well as environmental science/research (5)
- Degree to which the application demonstrates the innovative/original nature of the project and results (10)
- Effectiveness of the technical approach used in the project/results (15)
Project Outcomes (50 points)
- Clarity of the results and/or products (15)
- Overall benefits of the results to the public and ability to inform decision making at community, regional, national levels (20)
- Degree to which the application demonstrates how the results advance water quality research and knowledge and how they will be disseminated (15)
Use of NARS data (10 points)
- Effectiveness of NARS data usage for the project outcome (the more integral the use of NARS data is in the project, the more points awarded)
Bonus Points: (total of 10 possible bonus points)
- Weights/Population estimates. One or the other of the point categories below, not both. If both apply the proposal will have up 5 points added.
- Proper application of statistical survey weights in the analysis conducted (5 points) OR
- Use of population estimates from NARS reports or dashboards (2 points)
- Multiple surveys
- Application of NARS data from more than one waterbody type (coastal, rivers/streams, lakes, wetlands) in the analysis (5 points)
- Attachment A - NARS Phase 1 Intent to Participate Requirements (docx)
- Attachment B - NARS Phase 2 Requirements and Evaluation Criteria (docx)
- Attachment C - NARS Challenge Application (pdf)
- View the Challenge's Informational Webinar recording.
*Please note that Attachment B contains a comprehensive list of the challenge's judging criteria.
Can my school or organization have more than one team? Can an individual be on one or more team?
A school or organization can submit multiple projects. Researchers, students and faculty may contribute to and/or oversee multiple submissions to the NARS Data Analysis Innovation Challenge. Each project may only be submitted under one prize category.
Is there a recommended team size?
EPA has no requirements for team size.
Will I have the opportunity to ask EPA additional questions regarding the NARS Data Analysis Innovation Challenge?
Yes, EPA will be hosting a webinar on February 9, 2022 to introduce the challenge and answer any questions from potential applicants. This webinar will also be recorded and posted on our website.
Where do I go if I have questions about the NARS data?
Supporting documentation for the NARS data including details on data files, lab and field protocols and properly citing NARS data can be found on our website. Additional questions not answered by our website can be directed to NARSfirstname.lastname@example.org.
How is the NARS data currently being used in research beyond the scope of this challenge?
NARS data is publicly available and is utilized by scientists and researchers nationwide. Some recent publications highlighting NARS datasets can be found on the EPA NARs Journal Articles Applying National Aquatic Resource Survey Data webpage.
Are ORISE fellows assigned to work at EPA eligible to apply?
Yes, but never as part of their EPA/ORISE scope of work. ORISE fellows cannot use any time that is billed to EPA and cannot use any EPA-related resources, including EPA equipment, facilities, personnel, hardware, access, knowledge, information previously developed, or other resources that are available to them as a result of their employment except for those resources available to all other teams on an equal basis.
Are government contractors eligible?
Yes, but never as a part of their EPA contract. EPA contractors cannot use time or resources that are billed to the government to compete in the challenge in any way. Contractors may not utilize EPA equipment, facilities, personnel, hardware, access, knowledge, information previously developed, or other resources that are available to them as a result of their employment except for those resources available to all other teams on an equal basis.
Are federal employees or military personnel eligible?
Full time federal employees are not eligible regardless of academic status. Part time employees and military personnel may enter the Challenge, or be members of prize-eligible teams, so long as they are not acting within the scope of their Federal employment, and they rely on no facilities, personnel, hardware, access, knowledge, information previously developed, or other resources that are available to them as a result of their employment except for those resources available to all other teams on an equal basis. U.S. government employees participating as individuals, or who submit applications on behalf of an otherwise eligible organization, will be responsible for ensuring that their participation in the Challenge is permitted by the rules and regulations relevant to their position and that they have obtained any authorization that may be required by virtue of their government position. Failure to do so may result in the disqualification of them individually or of the entity which they represent or in which they are involved. Individuals that are part time federal employees or military personnel including Public Health Service commissioned corps will be required to provide written approval from their federal ethics official with their application.
Any questions? Please contact us at NARSemail@example.com.