The Arid Lands Information Center (ALIC) employs advanced information technologies to develop decision support resources that help people access, analyze, interpret, and understand observations, models, and research related to resource management in arid and semi-arid regions. These decision support resources take a variety of forms, from online learning modules to complex information analysis and management tools, depending on the specific problems confronting decision makers and their constituents. ALIC also collaborates with other faculty to increase the impact of their research projects, through designing new tools, extending existing ALIC tools, or transferring tools to sustainable operations at agencies and other organizations.
ALIC projects start with meaningful engagement and collaboration with the research community, stakeholders, information intermediaries, or operational agencies. Rather than simply asking what various stakeholder groups need, we work with other research groups in the context of their ongoing projects (e.g., the Climate Assessment for the Southwest, CLIMAS; the Rangelands West Partnership) to determine what stakeholders groups do; their expressed frustrations about information gaps, problems, and perceived research needs; and what research can provide to address stakeholder frustrations. In some cases, researchers independently work with stakeholders before engaging with us about possible information technology applications. ALIC also performs use-inspired research contingent on the determined needs of stakeholders.
ALIC develops decision support tools from a user-centric perspective using an iterative, interdisciplinary, and interactive approach focused on knowledge development rather than simply providing data or information, with significant continued stakeholder involvement. This approach offers great potential for fostering better linkages among the research, operations, and resource management communities. For every tool, ALIC involves users in providing feedback about the webtool usability.
ALIC recognizes that stakeholders have different capabilities to access, interpret, and understand scientific information. While some decision makers have sufficient resources to sustain expertise and even produce their own information products, others must access and interpret products made elsewhere, even though they have no special training. The situation presents a real challenge to operational organizations, research programs, and outreach efforts: to provide useful information that can be properly interpreted even by non-specialists. Information intermediaries are increasingly recognized for their ability to translate scientific concepts to the language and context for decision makers, whether through within an agency, Cooperative Extension, or the private sector. However, these intermediaries also need the support of online training materials for continued independent learning about new information, techniques, and tools.
ALIC user-centric decision support tools include:
- Forecast Evaluation Tool (http://fet.hwr.arizona.edu/ForecastEvaluationTool/), which allows users to evaluate the skill of National Weather Service seasonal climate outlooks and explore past forecasts, historical climatological conditions, and recent observations.
- Automated Hydrologic Threshold Alert System (http://ahtas.arid.arizona.edu), which allows project clients to establish complex real-time assessment of remotely monitored conditions, cell phone and email notification, and citizen reporting of event impacts.
- Climate Information Delivery and Decision Support System (http://cliddss.arid.arizona.edu/CLIDDSSClient), which allows management of customized portfolios of information products from multiple websites and efficient creation of customized newsletters based on products in the user’s portfolio.
- Treeflow Drought Analysis Toolbox (http://erebor.arid.arizona.edu/PaleoToolKit/), with Dr. Connie Woodhouse of the Geography Department and Laboratory for Tree-Ring Research, which compares observed droughts with extreme climate events indicated by tree rings.
- Small Grains Analysis Tool (in development), with Dr. Mike Ottman of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, which projects grain output based on recent observations and models of growth.
- Dynamic seasonal climate forecast product (in development) based on the National Weather Service Probability of Exceedance Outlook, with the NWS Climate Prediction Center, which allows users to easily understand and customize a complex forecast product.
- Cell phone applications for the Stealth Health project, which uses geospatial technologies to promote nutritional awareness and better health among youth (in development)
ALIC has also worked to transfer and extend webtools developed elsewhere to application for the U.S. Southwest, including:
- Extension of the Dynamic Drought Index Tool (http://www.ua-alic.com/ddit/), developed at the University of South Carolina, to track drought in Arizona and New Mexico using multiple indices
- Extension of AgroClimate (http://agroclimate.org), developed by the Southeast Climate Consortium, to include New Mexico agriculture in climate-based risk analysis.
ALIC website projects have all been collaborative efforts:
- With the UA SNRE and Library Arizona Rangelands Group, transitioning Rangelands West (http://rangelandswest.org) to version 2.0 and transferring it to the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,
- With the UA Library, initial development of the Sonoran Desert Knowledge Exchange (http://www.sdke.org),
- With the Arizona Remote Sensing Center (ARSC), initial development of the UA School of Natural Resources website (http://www.snr.arizona.edu)
ALIC ‘s online learning modules include:
- Arizona Project WET Computer Learning Module (access limited to registered classrooms)
- An Arizona-centric learning module on Rainwater Harvesting (http://rwh.arid.arizona.edu)
- A module on preventing invasion and spread of Caulerpa (transferred to US Fish and Wildlife Service)
- Two modules on drought and watershed management (transferred to the CSREES National Learning Center for Private Forest and Range Landowners)