The project is led by the Beacon Institute, which is non-profit institute focused on global scientific and technical innovation to advance research and education about rivers. They work to create new mechanisms to help humans can gain a more sophisticated understanding of rivers and estuaries worldwide for the benefit of public health, economic development, restoration of ecosystems and quality of life.
There are a variety of different sensors involved in the REON monitoring system, including a stationary sensor platform, doppler radar sensors that gauge the river current speed, robotic sensors that will move through the water, and sensors that will be dragged behind boats. Together these sensors measure chemical, biological and physical information of the river while it is happening. The importance of a real-time sensing system is that the changes to the river are happening in real-time. Eventually, the technology could be deployed worldwide in order to monitor water quality.
“Scientists used to have to fill up a bottle, bring it back to the lab for analysis, and then repeat that activity enough times to get a data set,” explains Arthur C. Sanderson, senior science advisor for Beacon Institute and Professor of Electrical, Computer and System Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.. “We would like to have the ability to continuously monitor activity from the microscopic to macroscopic scale, and build scientific models to understand how changes in the chemistry and biology affect the fish, river and larger ecology.”
A new computer system built by IBM with a new software architecture has the ability to analyze information as it happens. It can also pull together the data and tailor information to a variety of end-users – from researchers, to teachers and schoolchildren, to policymakers and the general public.
The networked array of sensors in the river will provide the data necessary to locally observe spatial variations in variables such as temperature, pressure, salinity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen and other basic water chemistry parameters. Applications of REON data could include the ability to visualize the movement of chemical constituents, monitor water quality and protect fish species as they migrate, as well as provide a better scientific understanding of river and estuary ecosystems.
View this video for more details on the project.