UH Hilo participating in $20M research partnership to secure Hawaiʻi’s water future

As part of the ʻIke Wai program, new degree programs at UH Hilo will help produce a new generation of big data scientists and data analytics professionals in Hawaiʻi.

Reservoir with waterfalls.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo is poised to participate in a federally-funded program to help the state address growing concerns over water resources in the state of Hawaiʻi. The National Science Foundation has awarded $20 million to the UH System to do a five-year study of water sustainability issues through a collaborative project called ʻIke Wai (Knowledge, Water).

Increasing population, changing land use practices, and issues relating to climate change are contributing to growing concerns over water quality and quantity in Hawaiʻi. The ʻIke Wai program assembles UH faculty and resources, state and federal agencies, and community partners to address critical gaps in the understanding of Hawaiʻi’s water supply that limit decision making, planning and crisis responses.

The overall goal of ʻIke Wai is to gather new data on groundwater flow, sustainable yield, and economic impact that will help communities and state decision makers preserve Hawaiʻi’s water resources for the future.

The project spans geophysics, microbiology, cyberinfrastructure, data modeling, indigenous knowledge, and economic forecasting, and pairs university scientists in partnerships with state and federal agencies and community groups. ʻIke Wai also incorporates important educational and cultural goals.

Gwen Jacobs
Gwen Jacobs

“ʻIke Wai will impact every citizen and business in the state, as it gives Hawaiʻi policy makers the ability to make data-driven, community informed decisions about the future of water in Hawaiʻi,” says Gwen Jacobs, UH cyberinfrastructure director and the project’s principal investigator. “This exciting partnership will link cutting edge research directly to community needs to secure a sustainable water future for Hawaiʻi and its neighbors in the Pacific.”

UH Hilo’s role: New faculty and degree programs

Both UH Mānoa and UH Hilo will be participating in the ʻIke Wai program. New degree programs at UH Hilo will help produce a new generation of big data scientists and data analytics professionals in Hawaiʻi.

Matt Platz
Matt Platz

“The ‘Ike Wai grant funding will serve as a catalyst for a new data science program at UH Hilo,” says Matt Platz, vice chancellor for academic affairs at UH Hilo.

The funding will allow UH Hilo to recruit four new data science faculty members in mathematics, computer science, and the natural and social sciences.

“These new faculty will partner with existing faculty members to develop a baccalaureate degree and several certificate programs  that focus on data mining, modeling, predictive analytics, and pattern recognition,” says Platz.

In addition, the acquisition of a Cyber-CANOE will allow students and faculty members to engage in data visualization and 3-D modeling. The acronym CyberCANOE stands for “Cyber Enabled Collaboration Analysis Navigation and Observation Environment,” and is a technology system that enables users from varied disciplines and locations to work together and communicate with each other on collaborative projects. (It is the brainchild of UH Mānoa Professor of Computer Science Jason Leigh of the Laboratory for Advanced Visualization and Applications or LAVA.)

The new UH Hilo data science program will be bolstered by a summer bridge program that shortens the curricular pipeline for future data science students and Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), a program that gives university students funding to work on data-intensive research projects with faculty members.

“These several, interrelated components of the ‘Ike Wai grant will provide UH Hilo data science students with the skills and experience necessary to solve complex problems by better understanding large, complicated data sets,” explains Platz.

It takes a University System

There also will be new training programs at UH Mānoa, and a collaboration with UH Mānoa’s Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge will imbue the ʻIke Wai project with traditional understandings and values based in Hawaiian water management practices.

David Lassner
David Lassner

“This is a compelling example of how the University of Hawaiʻi is helping Hawaiʻi and the world through our unique strengths and partnerships,” says UH President David Lassner.

“It also exemplifies how we synthesize cutting edge research, education and traditional Hawaiian knowledge to address critical community issues, including through the utilization of modern cyberinfrastructure and data science,” Lassner says.

Greg Chun
Greg Chun

ʻIke Wai team leader and Hawaiʻinuiākea faculty member Gregory Chun says, “Our ancestors had a sophisticated understanding of water sustainability practices. ʻIke Wai will inform the state’s water policy and practices with new data and models and through the integration of traditional knowledge and values concerning this most precious of resources.”


-Adapted from UH System News story, with the addition of details about UH Hilo’s role in the program.