$3 million grant to support first detailed map of the nation’s food, energy and water systems

Ruddell in computing lab

Associate professor Benjamin Ruddell, who joined the faculty of NAU’s new School of Informatics, Computing and Cyber Systems in the Fall 2016 term, received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support “Mesoscale Data Fusion to Map and Model the U.S. Food, Energy and Water (FEW) System.”

The interdisciplinary research project called “FEWSion,” which builds on Ruddell’s work on the National Water-Economy Project, will create and study the first detailed map of the system, showing how food production, energy production and the water supply align and interact. In the FEW system, regional trade, river basins and aquifers, irrigation districts, crop belts, states, tribes, counties and cities, power grids, climate gradients, and seasonal timescales interact in a dynamic, interconnected way. The map and its associated data will serve as a reliable and complete empirical description of the FEW system that will be used to advance understanding, inform future policies and spur new technologies.

“By studying how past events like droughts, storms, wars or economic crises have affected the nation’s FEW system, this project is developing the capacity to anticipate the impact of future events,” said Ruddell. Ruddell, a Registered Civil Engineer, is an expert in the science of complex systems and in the use of network science to engineer and manage complex systems.

“The FEW system mapping project puts us at the forefront of this field,” said William Grabe, NAU Vice President for Research and Regents’ professor. “It will have far-reaching implications in terms of providing solutions to a wide range of complex regional, national, and global challenges. Bringing Ruddell on board represents one more step in our efforts to hire talented faculty to build our interdisciplinary research capacity.”

Northern Arizona University’s new School of Informatics, Computing and Cyber Systems was established in July 2016 to address the challenges of research computing, and position NAU as a major research university in the areas of informatics, cyber-systems development, and cyber-security programs. The school integrates interdisciplinary research, combining computational and data sciences with eco-systems sciences, microbiology and pathogen research, social sciences, health sciences, the arts and business. Academic programs combine expertise in environmental and ecological informatics, health and bioinformatics, computer science and electrical engineering.