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Hubble Telescope of Water Pollution

by Lindsey Scott



Bruce Beck of UGA's Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources peers into the murky business of metropolitan wastewater infrastructure to bring greater clarity to managing water resources around the globe. Beck, UGA’s first Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, founded the School’s Environmental Process Control Laboratory (EPCL) to study problems common to many rivers and streams.

“We want to identify sources of non-point pollution and treatments for them,” Beck said. Such pollutants — fertilizers, for example — enter water bodies not from single “points,” such as factories, but from expanses of land, both urban and rural. Point-sources of pollution, such as from municipal wastewater treatment plants, are also a target for Beck’s lab. “Our analyses can lead to greater efficiency in plant operations; we can offer associated technical training and support,” Beck said.

Last summer, Beck’s group collected literally thousands of samples from the Soque river in north Georgia: 48 each day for six weeks, “day-in and day-out.” By analyzing the results of this extensive testing, researchers are beginning to determine how individual farming activities impact and may eventually reduce adverse impacts on water quality.

Although the EPCL appears modest on the outside — just two small trailers — researchers across the globe request access to its data bases. Both EPCL units contain state-of-the-art probes, sensors, and respirometers to record the levels of dissolved oxygen, suspended solids, ammonium, nitrites, nitrates, phosphates, and other organic compounds found in the aquatic environment. What’s more, monitoring of all these variables is conducted in real-time, a rare feature in the water world, Beck said.

“This has been truly a quantum leap for our research in signal-processing, informatics, forecasting, and control. A bit like what I imagine the Hubble telescope is to astronomy.”

“The EPCL,” he noted, “provides UGA’s water faculty — and my own modeling projects in particular — with the largest data sets available. It’s no longer a matter of just acquiring the data, but of making sense of them for policy and control.”

For more information access or contact Bruce Beck at


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