Blog entry

Presenting SimRiver

Gubbi Labs is proud to present, SimRiver - a web based tool to understand the impact of pollution on river ecosystems. Check it out here!

Background:

Environmental pollution and its management stand pose significant challenge to conservation scientists and administrators in developing countries. Water pollution proves to pose severe impact on health of ecosystems as well as economy of the region; further more it is also very tricky to handle! Water pollution is caused by multiple factors ranging from natural floods to human induced destructions primarily due to poor water management and that can lead to loss in Biodiversity. Since the last few decades, concern on water issues has increased but this lacks appropriate awareness and proper management goals. Environmental education initiation for school children and awareness among common people plays an important role in prevention of pollution and promotes restoration practices to bring back pristine environment. Across the globe, mainly in developing countries there are many environmental education programs developed and implemented in school and college curriculum.

In this context, "SimRiver" - part of the DiatomProject is one such attempt in this direction. “SimRiver” is a free web-based software application developed by Dr. Shigeki Mayama of Tokyo Gakugei University mainly to educate common people and students to understand the relationship between human activity and its impacts on river pollution. SimRiver was originally developed for use in Japanese middle and high school science classrooms. Recently, the developers of SimRiver collaborated with diatom researchers across continents and brought this program in multi-lingual format, which is termed as “DiatomProject”. This project is a free online application as well as it can be downloaded on any computer and works without Internet connection as well.

SimRiver allows the user to learn by creating a watershed from the origin of river to its mouth. Further, the user can configure the kind of land use in the catchment area such as forests, agriculture and urban settlements as well as one can control the efforts to restore degraded river water quality like construction and operation of a sewage treatment plant. The type of land use will help to create a set of diatom species and its identification using online key identification pages. Based on the watershed characters and conservation efforts river water quality is determined, so as the diatoms which live in the river.

Diatoms are microscopic algae and characterized by their unique silica based cell wall with species-specific ornamentation. Diatoms are incredibly species rich with nearly 20,000 known species and few hundred thousands of species are yet to be described. The silica cell walls, called frustules show a wide diversity in form and shapes but usually groups diatoms into two types pinnate (elongated shape) and centric (Circular shape). They potentially account for 40% of the world’s primary production, generate much of the energy that drives aquatic ecosystem. Being placed at the basic of the food chain, they also regulate biodiversity at all levels of food chain. They are found to grow abundantly as a thick brown mat or on submerged plants or on sediment top, and in every type of environment such as rivers, streams, lakes, waterfalls and wetlands. Diatom communities are tested to be potential tool for monitoring environmental conditions, commonly used in water quality studies. Distribution and presence of each diatom species is influenced by land use type and water quality parameters. Diatom distribution is unique to varying environments that vary from one region to another. Thus SimRiver helps to brief the relationship between presence of diatom species at respective watershed region either it could be forest or urban settlements. As alterations in river environments usually take place over an extended period of time, it can be difficult for students to understand the actual process of environmental change within short-term classroom settings. On the contrary, Diatom study requires on site observation prior to in depth analysis under microscope.

In SimRiver, simulated environment is developed so as to make students create and learn about both environment and its impact on biodiversity of a region. Therefore, students tend to accept information regarding environmental degradation of rivers as mere knowledge, with a lack of meaningful context. As experience-based exercises are often most effective in science learning, we developed SimRiver, a software simulation package. In this program, land use, population, the presence of sewage treatment plants, and the seasons can be manipulated, allowing students to create a variety of river environments. Students can evaluate the impact of environmental manipulation through the use of computer-generated diatom communities reflecting the water quality in electronic river systems (Katoh et al., 2004; Mayama, 2006). Students utilizing the SimRiver package can therefore better understand the relationships between human activity, river water quality, and diatom communities. The software allows students to learn more about tolerant and sensitive species and based on this classify saprobic status i.e., organic pollution in rivers and streams. In this program, students are assessed before and after use of SimRiver simulation so that effective teaching is communicated. Thus SimRiver outcome helps to understand the change in water quality over time and the cause of pollution through human activities.

SimRiver software also launches “Diatoms videos” which is available in three parts and can be viewed on the website or can also be downloaded (zip archive) here http://diatom.gubbilabs.in/root/en/video/index.html The part 1 video gives an introduction about diatoms, its distribution and variety of beautiful silica structure. Students can also learn about diatom collection at different river sites and preservation methods. Part 2 shows preparation of diatom permanent slide while part 3 elaborates about how to observe diatoms under microscope. These videos were used in classes in Japan for junior high to graduate school students, the reports gave positive results. Thus SimRiver was developed further in many languages like French, Deutsch, Chinese, Indonesia and so on. Recently it was developed in Kannada, Tamil and Marathi representing Indian languages by Gubbi labs. The primary goal of this project in India was to teach school and college students about intensively increasing river pollution and to monitor using diatoms, the tiny microscopic life forms. Alike in Japan, SimRiver was used in several schools in and around Bangalore as well as ATREE’s environmental educational program for school kids using both in English and Kannada language; Training workshop on Biomonitoring of Wetlands at Indian Institute of Science covering all 3 Indian languages. Masters and Bachelors of Science student of Environmental Science department at Kolhapur University, Maharashtra, also used Marathi version of SimRiver. The outcome of all these organized programs showed a constructive result where students view about river pollution and microscopic organisms was refined after the course.

The successful development of SimRiver-The Diatom project software was recognized as “The best e-learning educational software” at 8th International Japan award in 2011. At present Gubbi labs has been involved in development of software in other Indian languages such as Telugu, Malayalam, Bengali and Hindi and also producing videos in regional languages. The main objective is to spread awareness about environment particularly knowledge about river water pollution and biodiversity loss among school kids and college students using diatoms as teaching tools.

Currently Gubbi Labs is conducting DiatomProject- SimRiver courses at schools and college in and around Bangalore, Tumkur and Mysore in Karnataka, parts of Tamil Nadu and at Shivaji University, Kolhapur of Maharashtra to start with and willing to spread at every region. The software is available here in 3 Indian languages and in English:

Interested schools and colleges can also contact Gubbi Labs:

Gubbi Labs # 2-182, 2nd Cross, Extension, Gubbi - 572 216, Karnataka, INDIA. T: +91-8131-223175 http://www.gubbilabs.in/

For the serious ones: See bibliography.

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