Computer model predicts health risks in Presque Isle beach water

Every morning at 6 a.m. a computer at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center checks the weather and other environmental conditions, including stream flow, wave height and water temperature for five areas of Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pa.

“It’s completely automated,” said Michael Rutter, associate professor of statistics at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, who developed the model and wrote the program to retrieve the data. “Which is good. I don’t want to have to wake up at 6 a.m. and go on the Internet.”

Rutter’s weather model tells other researchers when conditions are right for E. coli contamination. “When the model says there’s a good chance, they go out and check,” Rutter said.

Contact with E. coli bacteria can cause intestinal illness and skin infection. When E. coli levels are elevated – 235 or more colonies per 100 milliliters of water – swimmers are advised to stay out of the water. When more than 1,000 colonies are present, swimming is banned.

Biologists from Mercyhurst University and the Regional Science Consortium use Rutter’s model to determine when, and where, to test the water. They share the results, which generally are available in two hours, with the Presque Isle State Park office, which determines when a beach warning is warranted.
 

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Last Updated August 29, 2012