The global water cycle consists of a complex web of interacting physical, biogeochemical, ecological and human systems. Management of this complex cycle has been practised for decades, but new challenges lie ahead due to increasing population pressure and environmental change. These challenges can only be ad-dressed by fundamental changes, both in perspective and in practice. The recent focus on the role of water security in addressing ecosystem services and sustainability has also emphasised the need for new approaches to achieving this dual goal. This in turn requires new, whole-system, multi-faceted, data-intensive, interdisciplinary approaches to research, training and development - approaches which take advantage of the information explosion and leading-edge technologies of the 21st century. Water informatics (also known as 'hydroinformatics' or Water Information Engineering) has grown rapidly in recent years and seeks to take full advantage of the proliferation of remotely sensed information from space and ground based sensors with increasing capabilities in terms of spatial, temporal and spectral resolution. Information and knowledge gained from data allows more efficient and reliable monitoring, modelling and management of the water cycle at global, regional and local scales. Water informatics deals with the intersection of 'big data' with 'smart technologies', to deliver more sustainable water solutions over these diverse scales, enabling innovation through evidence based insight.
As the capabilities of digital devices soar and their prices plummet, sensors are providing greater amounts of information than ever, at lower costs and with greater reliability than previously possible. In addition, many more people have access to far more powerful Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools and devices (e.g., there are 6 billion mobile-phone subscriptions worldwide - 81.6 million in the UK in 2011, with over 2.5 billion people using the internet - 52.7 million in the UK in 2012). These tools also enable 'People as sensors' (crowd-sourcing), bringing together the skills of humans to observe and interpret with the interconnection of the Internet to enable new types of information to be crowd-sourced. Combining these trends provides amazing new opportunities to address old and new problems in wholly new ways to meet emerging challenges around the water cycle. Globally, it is estimated that savings of up to £8.4 billion per annum may be realised through the adoption of smart water technologies to minimize operational inefficiencies and to maximize the effect of capital and operational expenditure.
Reports by the Council for Science and Technology (2009), the Royal Academy of Engineering (2012) and the Institution of Civil Engineers (2012) have highlighted a particular shortage of engineers and scientists in industries of national importance, such as "energy, water, sanitation, communications and IT systems". The projected skills shortage in the IT sector in Europe (900,000 vacancies by 2015) has prompted the European Commission to launch a 'grand coalition' to tackle the shortage. It is difficult to envisage that the need for skilled engineers working at the interface of IT and water science and engineering disciplines will be met by IT graduates alone. The aim of the WISE CDT will therefore be to fill this skills gap by offering a postgraduate programme that fosters new levels of innovation and collaboration and trains a cohort of engineers and scientists at the boundary of water informatics, science and engineering. Furthermore, the WISE CDT will link with other traditionally separate disciplines, which are relevant to sustainable water management, ranging from statistics to social sciences, geography, psychology and economics.