"Wired" Irish River Detects Pollution in Real Time

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
December 06, 2009

This story is part of a special series that explores the global water crisis. For more clean water news, photos, and information, visit National Geographic's Freshwater Web site.

Nature has gone wireless in Ireland, where scientists have outfitted a major river with sensors that detect spikes in pollution in real time.

Sensors recently placed at various points in the River Lee, near the city of Cork, send information on pollution levels back to a data center. Water managers can keep tabs on pollutants entering the river and, if need be, mount an immediate response.

Called the DEPLOY project, the program was developed as a cheaper alternative to sending out scientists to collect water samples several times a day. In addition, the technology can identify a disastrous influx of pollution, such as toxic industrial-chemical spills, before fish go belly up.

(Related: "'Smart Dust' Sensors to Be Used for Eco Detection.")

Citizens can also set up an account to get data reports, so they can receive text messages or emails whenever water quality reaches an unhealthy level at points in the river where people may kayak or swim.

"You can build a story about what is actually happening with the water," added Paul Gaughan, a project coordinator at the Marine Institute in Galway, Ireland, which is co-funding the initiative with the Irish Environmental Protection Agency.

For some, the Irish project is a test case: If successful, DEPLOY and other water-monitoring projects across the globe could help build momentum for widespread wireless detection.

Testing the Waters

The DEPLOY project launched with five monitoring stations in April 2009 along the River Lee, one of the largest rivers in southwestern Ireland. (See map.)

DEPLOY will last roughly until next April, when scientists will decide if it's both technically and economically feasible to expand the program to other European rivers. (See a map of the world's fresh water.)

The five-sensor system runs for about U.S. $22,619 (15,000 Euros). To outfit the entire Lee River Basin would cost about U.S. $301,592 (200,000 Euros), according to DEPLOY project manager Fiona Regan.

Continued on Next Page >>


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