Innovation Week Environment Hackathon

As part of Innovation Week 2017, we’ll be holding an Environment Hackathon throughout the week. Students will be split into groups of 5 – 6 people and assigned a key environmental challenge to address. Each team will then present their work at the end of the week in front of their fellow students and a panel of judges, and prizes will be awarded for the most innovative and well-thought-out solutions.

Prior to Innovation Week, you’ll need to select which hackathon challenge you’d like to take part in – we’ll assign groups based on your first and second choice preferences for the challenge. Please read through the list of proposed hackathon challenges below before submitting your preferences.

[Risk Management] How do we accurately assess and convey risks associated with exposure to radioactivity for humans and wildlife?

There are a huge number and variety of radioactive environmental pollutants that threaten wildlife as well as human health. However, the risk posed by radioactive pollutants in the environment can be difficult to quantify. Further, communicating this risk to key stakeholders and to the public in a measured but effective way is an important challenge.

The need to develop a better understanding of how radioactivity impacts humans and wildlife is pressing, as targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions may result in new nuclear power plants being commissioned in the UK and globally.

Disposal of radioactive waste into the air and sea is licensed, and so the new generation of power stations will need to provide evidence of what their waste streams will be and how these will impact the environment. The Nuclear Decommissioning Agency plans to develop a repository for underground disposal of radioactive waste, and examples of this type of disposal are already in use in parts of Scandinavia.

Scientists and policy-makers are increasingly appreciating the importance of quantifying and minimising the adverse effects of radiation exposure on plants and animals, particularly those within our own food chain. This will be a key part of any environmental assessment of future nuclear plants or waste disposal sites, as well as for monitoring legacy sites from past radioactive waste.

Your challenge in this hackathon is to address the pressing need for scientific knowledge on the topic of radioactivity in the environment, and the infrastructure and policy requirements to make that possible.

[Environmental Data] How do we design and implement future-proofed citizen science monitoring schemes for hard to identify insects?

Insect life is fundamentally important to ecosystem function and many of the natural services we rely on, from decompositions to pollination. However, with over 20,000 species of insect in the UK alone, monitoring their biodiversity presents a major challenge.

Citizen science projects offer a powerful tool to gather data over large spatial and temporal scales, utilising the vast people-power of interested members of the public. But while charismatic insects like butterflies and bees garner a great deal of public attention, it can be harder to elicit interest in more obscure insects, and particularly those that are challenging to identify. As well as drawing citizen scientists in, this project must also ensure that users have the information they need to make accurate identifications, and that appropriate checks are in place to produce high-quality data.

[Environmental Data] How do we consolidate, visualise and communicate species observation data?

Bats are considered to be a good indicator species, reflecting the general health of the natural environment – so a healthy bat population suggests healthy biodiversity in the local area.

This year BatsLive will be deploying the world’s first autonomous bat sensing network at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, one of the most iconic and high profile of London’s regeneration areas. A network of bat monitors will be installed across the park in early 2017, as the bats wake up from winter hibernation.

Your challenge is to develop new and exciting ways of visualising the large amount of species records that we are collecting during the project. The dataset we will be capturing is challenging to visualise as species observations are generated continuously over time and at multiple fixed locations. We are looking for creative visualisations that allow end users to understand the data both spatially and temporally.

[Infrastructure] How do we identify effective carbon sequestration technologies and implement them over a short timescale?

Man-made carbon dioxide is building up in the atmosphere, causing significant damage to the climate and environment (including ocean acidification, sea-level rise, increased extreme weather, etc.). The forecast for a “business as usual” scenario (where all fossil fuels are used) is up to 8°C warming by 2100, which would be entirely catastrophic for the human race.

The Paris Climate Agreement attempts to limit warming to 2°C – of which close to 1°C has already occurred. There is currently no predicted scenario where only 2°C warming is achievable without active removal of atmospheric CO2. Such artificial removal is known as “geoengineering”, “negative emissions” or CCS (carbon capture and storage).

A number of such technologies exist, but are only in the experimental stage. In addition, the shear scale of this is daunting: even if the efficiency of removal is 100%, the CCS industry will have to grow to be at least the size of the current oil + coal + gas + car + all other industry combined.

[Natural Resources] How do we obtain and communicate clear information about the impact of restoration on water resources?

Freshwater sources, including ponds, rivers, streams and lakes, are vulnerable to a wide range of environmental pressures, including climate change, pollution and land use change. Yet they provide essential ecosystem services, including a clean water supply, flood control and recreation. Ponds, shallow lakes, deep lakes and upland lakes are subject to different environmental stressors and require different strategies for management.

Because of their importance, lakes are subject to numerous national and European directives (e.g. EU Water Framework Directive, EU Habitats Directive), which set stringent targets for water quality and biodiversity. Meeting these targets requires a thorough understanding of the processes that degrade freshwater ecosystems, and a strong scientific evidence base for different management techniques.

The Before-After-Control-Impact (BACI) framework sets the standard for good monitoring, assessing the pre-construction baseline and post-construction condition, as well as comparing with a control or reference site that has been left unmodified. Unfortunately, traditional monitoring schemes have been conducted at weekly or fortnightly intervals, which may not provide sufficient information to understand the processes underpinning river function, and there are relatively few examples of well-monitored lakes.

Your challenge in this hackathon is to develop a framework for tackling these issues in obtaining high-quality data on the impact of restoration on water resources, as well as the challenges of communicating that data to key stakeholders and to the public.

[Natural Resources] How do we design systems for the detection and eradication of invasive species, particularly for resource-poor regions?

Invasive species cause serious environmental and economic damage around the world but the effects are felt most severely in Developing Countries where livelihoods can be seriously impacted. By their very nature, invasives can spread quickly and take advantage of changing conditions.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure with invasive species, and prevention followed by early detection and a rapid response give the best return on investment, compared to longer-term mitigation once the pest is beyond eradication.

This challenge therefore focuses on the detection and eradication of newly arrived pest species before they become unmanageable.

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