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Water: Monitoring & Assessment

National Aquatic Resource Surveys Campus Research Challenge

The National Aquatic Resource Survey (NARS) Campus Research Challenge gives undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to use NARS data to conduct further scientific research and analysis. This challenge is intended to encourage external, innovative research and information development in support of enhanced water management at multiple scales.

EPA will award up to $50,000 in two phases with prizes of $2,000 in phase one and $5,000 in phase two. In addition, winners will receive national recognition for their university, students and project by being featured on the National Aquatic Resource Surveys Campus Research Challenge website.  Winners may be offered opportunities to speak on webcasts, at meetings, or at other events.

For questions about this challenge, contact EPA at nars-challenge@epa.gov.

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Challenge details

About the data

The NARS datasets are all national in scope, employ statistically-representative design, based on consistent field and lab protocols and include physical, chemical and biological indicators of water quality.  These datasets provide a unique opportunity to conduct scientific research and analysis on many important water quality issues.  Currently, data are available from rivers, streams, lakes and estuaries. The Office of Water in EPA is interested in further exploring the NARS baseline data, reasons for observed changes in water quality between surveys, correlations with human disturbance variables, and other emerging threats in order to improve our ability to protect waterways and restore degraded waters.


The challenge applicant will identify one or more key and innovative questions or hypotheses and will use the NARS data, along with other relevant information such as landscape information, human disturbance information, economic or other social information to address the selected question or hypotheses.  The research must include some of the NARS data and make use of population estimates (e.g. using the statistical weights provided in the datasets), a significant strength of the NARS datasets.  The research may examine relationships nationally, eco-regionally, or for other defined subpopulations of interest.

Projects may include, but are not limited to:

  • Studying risk of exposure to key stressor(s) for biological and/or human health endpoints;
  • Analyzing cumulative risks posed by exposure to mixtures of contaminants (and/or a combination of chemical, physical, biological and social/psycho-social stressors);
  • Developing and evaluating novel assessment tools (e.g., methods, models);
  • Determining likely sources of poor water quality or factors related to protecting good water quality;
  • Developing sustainable and innovative tools to manage, restore, and protect these resources; and using trans-disciplinary approaches to integrate elements of the social and economic sciences, so as to expand the importance of social and cultural dimensions as they relate to water quality;
  • Analyzing NARS data and then identifying and developing unique means of communicating environmental messages to the public, water resource managers or other key stakeholders.


Phase 1: Applicants submit a proposal describing:

  • Objectives/hypotheses
  • Use of the NARS data
  • Analytical approach
  • Approach for communicating results and information from the effort.

Winners or team winners receive a $2,000 prize. EPA will select more than one winner.

Phase 2: Winners from Phase 1 submit the results of their projects the following year.

Several winners may be identified. Winners will receive an additional $5,000 prize.

Winners will receive national recognition for their university, students and project by being featured on the National Aquatic Resource Surveys Campus Research Challenge website. Winners may be offered opportunities to speak on webcasts, at meetings, or at other events.

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Who is eligible?

College seniors and graduate students affiliated with an accredited college or university are welcome to apply. Proposed projects may range from one semester to multi-year research or coursework.  Initial proposal and work must conform to the challenge deadlines.

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How to apply?

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How are submissions evaluated?

Clarity and significance of proposed research question and approach (40 points)

  • Relationship of proposed project to NARS Campus Challenge objectives
  • Innovative nature of the proposed project
  • Effectiveness of the proposed technical approach
  • Appropriateness of project schedule and project milestones (keeping in mind the timeline for Phase 2 submissions)

Project outcomes (40 points)

  • Clarity and usefulness of specific results and/or products that will be developed
  • Overall project benefits and ability to replicate in other communities, regions and/or nationally
  • How the project advances water quality research and knowledge

Capabilities and support (20 points)

  • How the proposed project addresses applicant academic and career goals
  • Qualifications of applicant or applicant team to implement the project
  • Statement of faculty support (including primary advisor), if applicable (undergrads and grad students)
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    February 21, 2014: Project opens
    May 15, 2014: Entries are due
    July 15, 2014: Award of Phase 1 winners
    January 31, 2015: Final analysis (Phase 2) entries due
    June 2015: Award of Phase 2 final winners

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