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On October 19, 2014, our team ventured to Seattle, Wash., for the annual Water for Food Global Conference. This year’s focus was “Harnessing the Data Revolution: Ensuring Water and Food Security from Field to Global Scales.”

Our interactive map of time-lapse videos on display at the conference. (Steven Speicher)
Our interactive map of time-lapse videos on display at the conference. (Steven Speicher)

As interns with Platte Basin Timelapse, Mariah Lundgren and I were lucky enough to be invited on the trip along with grad student Emma Brinley Buckley, web producer Steven Speicher and PBT co-founders Mike Farrell and Mike Forsberg.

Upon arrival, my first impression was intimidation. The venue was so elaborately designed, with custom decorations for the conference. The suits and ties coupled with discussion about major research projects was overwhelming. As one of the only two undergrads attending (Mariah being the other), I felt a bit out of place. But after the “Education Share-a-Thon” on Sunday evening, my view of the conference changed drastically.

During the share-a-thon, PBT and other organizations shared their projects in an informal setting. We had a large flat-screen television hooked up to our website to make our content more interactive. As the session began, the crowd began to flock to our table, enthralled with our informative time-lapse videos and content. At first, I was a bit hesitant, unsure how to appropriately approach those viewing our screen, but as the evening progressed, I gained more confidence in my ability to explain our ideas and interest those around me.

It was comforting knowing so many people were interested in our project. I felt more in place knowing that I had contributed to a project that was a major hit with those attending.

Web producer Steven Speicher displays our new story during the Share-A-Thon. (Joe Arneson)
Web producer Steven Speicher displays our new story during the Share-A-Thon. (Joe Arneson)

The Water for Food Institute was founded in 2010 “to address the global challenge of achieving food security with less pressure on water resources through improved management of water in agricultural and food systems.” In short, this means that they want to ensure food security without compromising the use of water.

Platte Basin Timelapse was invited to the conference because we have a different medium of exploring data from the field. Through our images, one can interpret many different processes of water at the field scale without having to interpolate complicated data. Our project explains ideas that anyone, from any background, can understand.

The official conference sessions began Monday morning after an extremely delicious and filling breakfast. The conference continued through Wednesday, with multiple sessions presenting different ideas on how to appropriately manage our water resources in terms of agriculture for a growing global population that is predicted to exceed nine billion by 2050.

View from the back of the conference welcome Monday morning. (Joe Arneson)
View from the back of the conference welcome Monday morning. (Joe Arneson)

On Monday evening we attended a banquet. It was by far the most amazing and fanciest meal of my life. There were so many forks and spoons and courses. I was a bit overwhelmed, trying not to make a fool of myself. But as the meal progressed, I realized this conference was not about showing off one’s skills of navigating four forks and three spoons appropriately. The conference goal was to bring together multiple parties of different backgrounds to learn from each other and create new ideas of how to manage our resources appropriately. It was fascinating to hear about other’s backgrounds at this conference, from documentarians and professors to CEOs and directors of prestigious organizations.

On Wednesday morning, Mike and Mike, along with Ian Cottingham (from the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln), presented the Platte Basin Timelapse project during the Data from Field to Global Scales session. Although I have seen them present multiple times before, I still had goose bumps the entire time. Watching Mike and Mike speak so eloquently and confidently about our project reminded me of why we do what we do. It made me feel special seeing some of my work up on the screen and looking around, watching everyone so fascinated and interested in our work.

The opportunity to network with professionals from all around the world was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to go on this trip and appreciative of all that it had to offer. Overall, the trip was AMAZING. I got to travel all the way to Seattle with my colleagues to show all of our hard work and to learn about some amazing innovations. I would like to thank the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute and Platte Basin Timelapse for the ability to venture all the way to the West Coast and further my education.

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