Low-Cost Aquatic Environmental Monitoring Solutions

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A large proportion of the world's communities rely heavily on healthy aquatic ecosystems. Maintaining water quality is vital for ensuring the supply of safe drinking water, irrigation for farming, and also supporting the sensitive ecology that lives in and around water bodies.

The Smart Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Technologies (SEMAT) initiative is developing the next generation of aquatic wireless sensor networks to enable near real-time monitoring of our precious lakes, creeks, rivers and coastal environments.

Our system represents a holistic package (or "one-stop shop") for environmental monitoring through measuring the following:

  • Current (mps)
  • Dissolved Oxygen
  • Photosynthetic Active Radiation (PAR), infrared to visible light (300 - 900 nm)
  • pH
  • Pressure (up to 12 millibars)
  • Salinity (mS/cm)
  • Temperature (accurate to +- 0.25 C)
  • Turbidity (NTU - Nepthelometric Turbidity Units)

These measurements are then transmitted in near real-time to this web site. This information is absolutely crucial in terms of monitoring the effects of environmental change, run-off and pollutants.

Our devices are designed for use by non-expert end-users such as farmers or similar stakeholders in urban and rural settings. As commonly expected today, it is intended that a single person can deploy a device, then take out his/her mobile phone and view the data being collected.

Our low-cost approach makes it ideal for agriculture/aquaculture applications - particularly in developing countries where expense is a significant limiting factor in uptake. SEMAT is fundamentally altering our capacity to manage marine and coastal ecosystems and respond in times of crisis.

Our current monitoring units utilise low-cost micro controllers and networking technologies. Our platform can be adapted for use with virtually any type of sensor and can provide multiple options for data storage, telemetry and power management. 80% of the system has been developed using recycled e-waste components. This makes the system immediately available, cheap to maintain, and adaptable to foreseeable new sensors and technologies.

The low cost associated with the system makes it pervasive. For example, 100 lower cost (potentially less precise; ≤ 5% error) monitoring units can cover a greater spatial area and provide more meaningful data than 10 expensive, highly precise competing units. These could be compared in real-time to few, high accuracy, calibrated devices for data assurance.

Our design is based on "swap and go systems" - an entire monitoring unit, or parts of the unit, can be swapped while out in the field. Technicians are not required to be present in order to deploy a new unit or make changes to an existing deployed unit. This effectively lowers the deployment costs and ensures that any faulty or damaged components can be easily fixed. We have also built in self-cleaning mechanisms for some sensor types to reduce the need for humans to service the unit.

Funding: Queensland NIRAP Granting Scheme, Vietnam Ministry of Science and Technology, Vietnam Ministry for Agricultural Research and Development, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Logan City Council, Ipswich City Council, SEQwater and the collaborating universities.

Researchers: Dr Jarrod Trevathan (GU) and Assoc. Prof. Ron Johnstone (UQ).

Media: UQ Media Release ISSUU

Affiliations: Substation33