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1. LEARNING OBJECTIVES

The following are the learning objectives

Students to understand some guidelines and techniques for water quality data analysis

and presentation

2. INTRODUCTION

Data analysis and presentation, together with interpretation of the results and report

writing, form the last step in the water quality assessment process. It is this phase that

shows how successful the monitoring activities have been in attaining the objectives of

the assessment. It is also the step that provides the information needed for decision

making, such as choosing the most appropriate solution to a water quality problem,

assessing the state of the environment or refining the water quality assessment process

itself.

Water quality data are often collected at different sites over time to improve water quality

management. Water quality data usually exhibit the following characteristics: non-normal

distribution, presence of outliers, missing values, values below detection limits

(censored), and serial dependence. It is essential to apply appropriate statistical

methodology when analyzing water quality data to draw valid conclusions and hence

provide useful advice in water management.

particularly important for the final stages of data analysis and interpretation of results.

The subject of statistical sampling and programme design is complex and cannot be

discussed in detail here.

Designing a water quality data storage system needs careful consideration to ensure that

all the relevant information is stored such that it maintains data accuracy and allows easy

access, retrieval, and manipulation of the data. Although it is difficult to recommend one

single system that will serve all agencies carrying out water quality studies, some general

1

quality data storage and retrieval systems which will serve the particular needs of each

agency or country.

How would you go about describing water quality?

4. BASIC STATISTICS

Statistics is the science that deals with the collection, tabulation and analysis of numerical

data. Statistical methods can be used to summarise and assess small or large, simple or

complex data sets. Descriptive statistics are used to summarise water quality data sets into

simpler and more understandable forms, such as the mean or median.

Questions about the dynamic nature of water quality can also be addressed with the aid of

statistics. Examples of such questions are:

2

What are the mass loads of materials moving in and out of water systems?

When these and other questions are re-stated in the form of hypotheses then inductive

statistics, such as detecting significant differences, correlations and regressions, can be used

to provide the answers.

5. DATA CHARACTERISTICS

a) Recognition of data types

The types of data collected in water quality studies are many and varied. Frequently,

water quality data possess statistical properties which are characteristic of a particular

type of data. Recognising the type of data can often, therefore, save much

preliminary, uninformed assessment, or eventual application of inappropriate

statistical procedures.

Data sets typically have various, recognisable patterns of distribution of the individual

values. Values in the middle of the range of a data set may occur frequently, whereas

those values close to the extremes of the range occur only very infrequently.

Measurement data are of two types:

Direct: data which result from studies which directly quantify the water

quality of interest in a scale of magnitude, e.g. concentration, temperature,

species population numbers, time.

Indirect: these data are not measured directly, but are derived from other

appropriately measured data, e.g. rates of many kinds, ratios, percentages and

indices.

Both of the above types of measurement data can be sub-divided into two further types:

Continuous: data in which the measurement, in principle, can assume any value

within the scale of measurement. For example, between temperatures of 5.6 C

3

and 5.7 C, there are infinitely many intermediates, even though they are beyond

the resolution of practical measurement instruments. In water quality studies,

continuous data types are predominantly the chemical and physical measurements.

Discontinuous: data in which the measurements may only, by their very nature, take

discrete values. They include counts of various types, and in water quality studies are

derived predominantly from biological methods.

Ranked data: Some water quality descriptors may only be specified in more general

terms, for example on a scale of first, second, third,...; trophic states, etc. In such scales, it

is not the intention that the difference between rank 1 and rank 2 should necessarily be

equal to the difference between rank 2 and rank 3.

Data attributes: This data type is generally qualitative rather than quantitative, e.g. small,

intermediate, large, clear, dark. For many such data types, it may also be possible to

express them as continuous measurement data: small to large, for example, could be

specified as a continuous scale of areas or volumes.

Data sets derived from continuous measurements (e.g. concentrations) may show

frequency distributions which are either normal or non-normal. Conversely,

discontinuous measurements (e.g. counts) will almost always be non-normal. Their nonnormality may also depend on such factors as population spatial distributions and

sampling techniques, and may be shown in various well-defined manners characterised by

particular frequency distributions. Considerable manipulation of non-normal, raw data

may be required before they are amenable to the established array of powerful

distribution-based statistical techniques. Otherwise, it is necessary to use so called nonparametric or distribution-free techniques.

Ranked data have their own branch of statistical techniques. Ratios and proportions,

however, can give rise to curious distributions, particularly when derived from

discontinuous variables. For example, 10 per cent survivors from batches of test

organisms could arise from a minimum of one survivor in ten, whereas 50 per cent could

4

arise from one out of two, two out of four, three out of six, four out of eight or five out

often; and similarly for other ratios.

b) Data validation

To ensure that the data contained in the storage and retrieval system can be used for

decision making in the management of water resources, each agency must define its

data quality needs, i.e. the required accuracy and precision. It must be noted that all

phases of the water quality data collection process, i.e. planning, sample collection

and transport, laboratory analysis and data storage, contribute to the quality of the

data finally stored.

Of particular importance are care and checking in the original coding and keyboard

entry of data. Only careful design of data codes and entry systems will minimise input

errors. Experience also shows that major mistakes can be made in transferring data

from laboratories to databases, even when using standardised data forms. It is

absolutely essential that there is a high level of confidence in the validity of the data

to be analysed and interpreted. Without such confidence, further data manipulation is

fruitless. If invalid data are subsequently combined with valid data, the integrity of the

latter is also impaired.

c) Data outliers

In water quality studies data values may be encountered which do not obviously

belong to the perceived measurement group as a whole. For example, in a set of

chemical measurements, many data may be found to cluster near some central value,

with fewer and fewer occurring as either much larger or much smaller values.

Infrequently, however, a value may arise which is far smaller or larger than the usual

values. A decision must be made as to whether or not this outlying datum is an

occasional, but appropriate, member of the measurement set or whether it is an outlier

which should be amended, or excluded from subsequent statistical analyses because

of the distortions it may introduce. An outlier is, therefore, a value which does not

conform to the general pattern of a data set

5

Quality assurance should be applied at all stages of data gathering and subsequent

handling. For the collection of field data, design of field records must be such that

sufficient, necessary information is recorded with as little effort as possible. Preprinted record sheets requiring minimal, and simple, entries are essential. Field

operations often have to take place in adverse conditions and the weather, for

example, can directly affect the quality of the recorded data and can influence the care

taken when filling-in unnecessarily-complex record sheets.

appropriate, the calculations, data transfers and certain ratios or ionic balances.

Laboratory managers must further check the data before they allow them to leave the

laboratory. Checks at this level should include a visual screening and, if possible, a

comparison with historical values of the same sampling site. The detection of

abnormal values should lead to re-checks of the analysis, related computations and

data transcriptions.

The quality assurance of data storage procedures ensures that the transfer of field and

laboratory data and information to the storage system is done without introducing any

errors. It also ensures that all the information needed to identify the sample has been

stored, together with the relevant information about sample site, methods used.

Some examples of parametric and non-parametric basic statistics are worked through in

detail in the following sections for those without access to more advanced statistical aids.

A choice often has to be made between these statistical approaches and formal methods

are available to aid this choice. However, as water quality data are usually asymmetrically

distributed, using non-parametric methods as a matter of course is generally a reliable

approach, resulting in little or no loss of statistical efficiency. Future developments in the

6

applicability and scope of non-parametric methods will probably further support this

view. Nevertheless, some project objectives may still require parametric methods (usually

following data transformation), although these methods would usually only be used where

sufficient statistical advice and technology are available.

In principle, before a water quality data set is analysed statistically, its frequency

distribution should be determined. In reality, some simple analysis can be done without

going to this level of detail. It is usually good practice to graph out the data in a suitable

manner, as this helps the analyst get an overall concept of the shape of the data sets

involved.

a) Parametric statistics

Just as the water or biota samples taken in water quality studies are only a small fraction

of the overall environment, sets of water quality data to be analysed are considered only

samples of an underlying population data set, which cannot itself be analysed. The sample

statistics are, therefore, estimations of the population parameters. Hence, the sample

statistical mean is really only an estimate of the population parametric mean. The value of

the sample mean may vary from sample to sample, but the parametric mean is a particular

value. Ideally, sample statistics should be un-biased. This implies that repeat sample sets,

regardless of size, when averaged will give the parametric value.

By making presumptions about the data frequency distribution of the population data set,

statistics have been devised which have the property of being unbiased. Because a

frequency distribution has been presumed, it has also been possible to design procedures

which test quantitatively hypotheses about the data set. All such statistics and tests are,

therefore, termed parametric, to indicate their basis in a presumed, underlying data

frequency distribution. This also places certain requirements on data sets before it is valid

to use a particular procedure on them. Parametric statistics are powerful in hypothesis

testing wherever parametric test requirements are met.

b) Non-parametric statistics

7

Since most water quality data sets do not meet the requirements mentioned above, and many

cannot be made to do so by transformation, alternative techniques which do not make

frequency distribution assumptions are usually preferable. These tests are termed nonparametric to indicate their freedom from any restrictive presumptions as to the underlying,

theoretical data population. The range (maximum value to minimum value), is an example of

a traditional non-parametric statistic. Recent developments have been to provide additional

testing procedures to the more traditional descriptive statistics.

Non-parametric methods can have several advantages over the corresponding parametric

methods:

Non-parametric tests are likely to be more powerful than parametric tests in hypothesis

testing when even slight non-normality exists in the data set; which is the usual case in water

quality studies.

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