NSF-Research Training Group

Project: The Sounds of Complexity in Aquatic Ecosystems


Mentors: Naoki Saito (Applied Math), Geoff Schladow (Civil & Environmental Engineering), Sam Nichols (Music)

Summary Description: The natural world is rich in complexity, populated with spatial and temporal phenomena that interact over many orders of magnitude. The information that is embodied in that complexity is usually only available to a few who are expert in specialized area of mathematics, engineering, and geophysics. Yet it is vital that non-technical decisionmakers appreciate the complexity and the connectivity within these systems. Also by presenting this complexity in ways that transcend the underlying mathematics and physics, it is possible to spark curiosity and interest in those who do not currently see themselves destined for careers in the sciences. Music is the vehicle through which we propose to explore and present the complexity of aquatic ecosystems.

Cyclical motions can be broken down into sets of simple frequencies using mathematical techniques. By recombining these sets, mapping the frequencies onto the human audible range, selectively amplifying and suppressing parts of the signal, combined with the artistry of a composer, we believe we can translate physical processes to music, and in so doing provide a unique window into aquatic ecosystems. The goal of this pilot project is to produce a "composition" that conveys at least two aspects of lake dynamics and water quality – wind driven upwellings that transfer algae stimulating nutrients, and deep mixing that drives the ventilation of the deepest waters.

The project is reliant upon the existing data collection program of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC), and will be demonstrated through TERC’s existing public education centers in the Tahoe basin.

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