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UNC to launch ‘Facebook for water’

UNC will soon help launch what some researchers are calling a “Facebook for water.”

The program, which will be called HydroShare, will provide information about the nation’s bodies of water and other water-related research, called hydrology.

The University’s Renaissance Computing Institute, or RENCI, is helping to spearhead a national effort to make water research more readily available in one convenient online program.

Ray Idaszak, director of collaborative environments at RENCI, said UNC was approached by HydroShare because of the institute’s ability to manage data.

David Tarboton, a Utah State University engineering professor who oversees the HydroShare project, coined the phrase “Facebook for water.” UNC is working alongside Utah State University and six other universities.

The $4.5 million project is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Larry Band, director of UNC’s Institute for the Environment, said the idea behind HydroShare was to make advanced information in hydrology available to more than just researchers.

“HydroShare makes publishing and posting easier and is geared toward water phenomena,” Band said.

Idaszak said he hopes HydroShare will make the research of water available at one convenient location.

“What we’re talking about is sharing data, the raw materials, so people can reproduce others’ results using the same software data,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be great to let people take advantage of your work without having to reproduce the results yourself?”

Karen Green, director of communication and outreach at RENCI, said the institute’s goal is to help scientists focus on the research and not worry about technology.

“These days, data is being produced like never before, and people are overwhelmed,” Green said.

“We can help them manage their data and find, share and compare other data,” she said.

Band said one reason UNC was chosen to take the technical lead in HydroShare is because of its long history in the research of water.

Band also helped propose the University’s “Water in Our World” theme, a campus-wide theme stemming from the 2011 Academic Plan which will play a large part in UNC curricula and research throughout the next two years.

“‘Water in Our World’ should extend all the way from faculty research all the way to the undergraduates,” he said.

“It will involve research all across campus, not just in sciences,” Band said.

Even though the school’s water theme hadn’t yet been developed at the time the National Science Foundation approved funding for HydroShare, Green said the funding of the proposal illustrates that UNC is playing a public role in addressing water issues.

“They knew UNC had a deep interest in water issues, and it reinforces why they chose us,” Green said.

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