18 Dec 2023

Top prize goes to grad students for their drought data tool

Two University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa students, Cherryle Heu and Roderick “RJ” Tabalba, have clinched the grand prize in the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Michael H. Freilich Data Visualization Competition. Their user-friendly data visualization tool is aiding Hawaiʻi ranchers in navigating the challenges of drought.

Heu, a master’s student in the Department of Natural Resource and Environmental Management and Tabalba a PhD student in the Information and Computer Sciences Department, created an easy-to-use customizable dashboard, which visualizes rainfall and temperature data from the Hawaiʻi Climate Data Portal (HCDP).

Heu headshot
Cherryle Heu
Tabalba headshot
Roderick “RJ” Tabalba

Judges of the competition gave glowing reviews including, “This high-quality submission is worthy of the Visualization award, as the tool has impressive interactive components, enabling users to build bespoke dashboards to analyze rainfall and air temperature.”

The HCDP was developed as a part of the Hawaiʻi EPSCoR Change Hawaiʻi project to provide the state with high-quality reliable climate data and information.

“The HCDP is a groundbreaking website and made this data available to the public. It’s publicly available for anyone to see and access,” said Heu. “The tool that RJ has developed allows anyone to access and manipulate a wealth of real-time data and create it into information they need for themselves whether they are ranchers, conservationists, forecasters or researchers.”

Power of collaboration

Collaboration and co-creation were essential at every stage of this project. Working closely with resource managers in collaboration with the Pacific Drought Knowledge Exchange, Heu and others as a part of the stewardship team helped to facilitate knowledge exchange and co-production of drought data and products based on community needs.

The power of collaboration was further demonstrated by Heu and Tabalba’s multidisciplinary approach that combined geoscience and computer science to develop their data visualization tool.

“I took the opportunity to enter this competition with another student, Cherryle, who was already using the HCDP. It was a good match-up. She had the knowledge, use cases and background to create tools,” said Tabalba. “Cherryle really filled in that gap of knowledge. Climate is different in Hawaiʻi, it might be raining in one area and not raining in the next. It really motivates the need that farmers need to have their custom-made dashboard.”

Presenting to NASA

Heu and Tabalba were awarded a total of $6,000 to attend this year’s AGU Annual Meeting in December in San Francisco and to support additional professional development activities. They will also have the opportunity for exclusive career advice and support from a professional career consultant and to present their grand prize winning project to NASA and AGU in December and at AGU headquarters in Washington, D.C. in early 2024.

Tabalba looks forward to graduating in 2024 and working in industry with a top IT company. He plans to take the skills he learned by receiving feedback from others to gain new perspectives and elevate his own work. Heu, who finds her field extremely fulfilling, plans to complete her degree and continue creating impactful work that others find useful.

By Maria Dumanlang