CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) – A new tool has been developed by a West Virginia University (WVU) researcher to help scientists learn more about water pollution, according to WVU Today.

“The tool is a simple mathematical model that uses only water temperature and pH to predict oxygen in the water,” said Omar Abdul-Aziz, head researcher and associate professor at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.

Oxygen is an essential part of any stream’s health and Abdul-Aziz’s model can make its prediction with only a small amount of easily obtainable data.

Omar Abdul-Aziz, associate professor, WVU Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources (WVU Photo)

“Once we know the oxygen levels in these streams, we can take interventional measures such as stream restoration, and we can use green engineering solutions like increasing watershed and streamside vegetation,” Abdul-Aziz said.

The model, which was put into a paper co-authored by WVU doctoral student Aron Gebreslase and published in Water Resources Research, was developed with funds from the National Science Foundation CAREER award and uses water quality data from 86 monitoring stations across 32 states between 1998 and 2015, covering a variety of climates.

“This tool is going to help the EPA implement the Clean Water Act, which for non-urban streams requires that ‘dissolved oxygen’ — the amount of oxygen in water — be at no less than five milligrams per liter,” Abdul-Azis said. “Dissolved oxygen is important because, if the level of oxygen in those streams goes below that five milligram cutoff, it starts to become hard for fish and other aquatic animals to breathe and the stream is typically considered impaired.”

Although there are many factors that contribute to the health of a stream, Abdul-Aziz’s model mostly depends on water temperature for its predictions, ideally supplemented with pH levels. 

High temperatures make it harder for oxygen to dissolve in water and encourages processes that use up oxygen.

“With agriculture, logging, mining and chemical processing plants, most of our country’s populated areas now have contaminated streams, and this model allows people to do something about that,” Abdul-Aziz said. 

The tool works for most freshwater streams in the U.S., with the exception of some streams under the effects of significant geothermal activity, like in Yellowstone National Park.