National Aquatic Resource Surveys

National Wetland Condition Assessment Campus Research Challenge

The National Wetland Condition Assessment Campus Research Challenge gives graduate students the opportunity to use NWCA data to conduct scientific research and analysis. This challenge is intended to encourage external, innovative research and information development in support of enhanced wetland assessment and management at multiple scales. EPA encourages student applicants to work with their advisors and other faculty; and to consider how this work may also be incorporated into your thesis, a standalone project, journal articles, and/or presentations or posters at conferences.

EPA will award up to $30,000 including a Grand Prize Winner(s) of $5,000 and additional merit awards. In addition, winners will receive national recognition for their university, students and project by being featured on the EPA website. Winners may be offered opportunities to speak on webcasts, at meetings, or at other events.

For questions about this challenge, contact the following EPA staff at

Margarete Heber, co-lead, Water Data Project

Sarah Lehmann, team leader, National Aquatic Resource Surveys

On this page:

Challenge Details

About the data

EPA recently published a report presenting the findings from the National Wetland Condition Assessment 2011, the first national assessment of the ecological condition of the nation’s wetlands. The report describes the results of a nationwide probabilistic survey of wetlands conducted in the spring and summer of 2011 by EPA and its state and tribal partners. Results are based on ecological data collected at more than 1,000 sites across the country using standardized field protocol. Data and assessments from the NWCA, one of four National Aquatic Resource Surveys, provide information on the condition of wetlands and key stressors impacting them. The NWCA dataset is national in scope, statistically-based, consistent and comprehensive (for more information see  

This dataset provides a unique opportunity to conduct scientific research and analysis on many important water quality questions in wetlands. The Office of Water in EPA is interested in further exploring the NWCA baseline data, correlations with human disturbance variables, and other emerging threats in order to improve our ability to protect wetlands and restore degraded wetlands. 

The NWCA data is available at Data from other NARS are available at this same location.


The applicant will identify one or more key and innovative questions/hypotheses and will use the NWCA data, along with other relevant information such as landscape information, human disturbance information, economic or other social information, etc. to address the selected question/hypotheses. Applicants may also use data from other NARS as part of the research project (e.g., lakes, streams/rivers, coastal waters). The research must include some of the NWCA data and make use of population estimates (e.g. using the statistical weights provided in the datasets), a significant strength of the NARS datasets[1]. R script for applying the weights (found in the site information file) in order to appropriately develop population estimates can be found here. In conducting the research project, it is important to keep in mind that the NWCA provides data on assessment areas within wetlands – not whole, individual wetlands. The research may examine relationships nationally, eco-regionally, or for the other defined subpopulations of interest.

Projects may include, but are not limited to:

  • Studying the relative influence of landscape versus local factors on biological condition, specific plant communities (for example, non-native species invasion), stressors or other variables in wetlands.
  • Studying the relative influence of landscape/local factors on wetland soil chemistry or physical properties.
  • Application of NWCA results at a regional or national scale in understanding local/watershed/state-scale wetland condition
  • Analyzing the relationship between wetland condition and condition of neighboring waters (rivers/streams, lakes, estuaries).
  • Developing and evaluating novel assessment tools (e.g., methods, models) to examine wetland condition.
  • Determining likely sources of poor wetland condition.
  • Analyzing cumulative risks posed by exposure to multiple stressors.
  • Other topic areas such as climate change, ecosystem services/functions, carbon sinks, etc.

Applicants submit a project not to exceed 20 pages (including graphics/figures) plus an additional 3 pages for references/citationsAdditional pages can also be added to submit faculty support letters. Proposals must:

  • Include a title,
  • Describe the research question(s)/hypotheses you are addressing,
  • Detail the approach and data you used, and
  • Clearly describe your results including applicability of the results.

Students/teams who are planning to submit a proposal must send an email to by November 15, 2016 letting us know of your interest and the likely topic/research question(s) that will be addressed [2].

Reminder, to be eligible to win, projects must meet the following requirements:

EPA reserves the right to publish the submitted project(s)/paper(s) on its website.


EPA will select one or more Grand Prize winner or team to receive $5,000. Additional prizes may be awarded based on merit.   

Winners will receive national recognition for their university, students and project by being featured on the EPA website. Winners may be offered opportunities to speak on webcasts, at meetings, or at other events.

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Who is eligible?

Graduate and PhD students who are U.S. citizens and affiliated with an accredited college or university are welcome to apply. Proposed projects may range from one semester to multi-year research or coursework. The initial work that supports the NWCA Challenge project must be completed and conform to the challenge deadlines, however.

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How to apply?

  1. Submit a proposal via email to by November 15, 2016 (date extended) letting us know of your interest and the likely topic/research question(s) that will be addressed.
  2. Download and fill out the Campus Research Challenge Application Form (pdf).
  3. Email the completed form to by midnight ET January 13, 2017.

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How are submissions evaluated?

Clarity and Significance of Research Question and Approach (40 points)

  • Relationship of project and results to NWCA Campus Challenge objectives (15)
  • Innovative nature of the project and results (10)
  • Effectiveness of the technical approach used in the project/results (15)

Project Outcomes (60 points)

  • Clarity and usefulness of specific results and/or products (25)
  • Overall benefits of the results and ability to replicate in other communities, regions and/or nationally (20)
  • How the results advance wetland research and knowledge (15)

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May 2016 – Registration opens

May 2016 – Challenge Information Webinar

November 9, 2016 - Challenge Information Webinar 3:30pm-4:30pm EST (webinar link will be available by November 1)

November 15, 2016 - Proposals due (date extended)

January 13, 2017 - Entries are due

March 17, 2017 – Award of winners

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[1] Population weights for each site are provided in the site information file on EPA’s website. Weights reflect different probabilities of selection for inclusion in the sample and have been adjusted to account for the final set of sampled/dropped sites. In order to calculate population estimates, the sample weights must be used. 

[2] This is not an eligibility requirement.