Portable tracker delivers water quality data in real time that could defend against flash floods and algae blooms.
A team of engineers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have developed a low-cost, portable gauging station called ‘Drifter’. Housed in PVP piping that is deployable by hand or helicopter, the Drifter measures water flow, height and sediment flux. They are specially weighted, floating only 1 to 2 centimeters above surface level to ensure they are carried by current not wind.
The Drifter’s creation was inspired by the devastation caused by the 2011 Brisbane floods. Its units – each costing 100 USD – are equipped with Bluetooth and GPS. In addition, it also transmits high-resolution, real-time data to an external computer. This feeds into advanced models for flood frequency, forecasting and risk management. Authorities can use these to issue early warnings and create more localized emergency response plans that save both lives and livelihoods.
Beyond mitigating flood risk, the Drifter is sensitive to the pH of water, turbidity, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and contaminants. It can also be used to investigate land use changes such as agricultural practices and waste disposal. These indicators allow researchers to pinpoint sources of pollutants in run-off and predict where algal blooms may form, says QUT researcher Dr Kabir Suara. Furthermore, harmful algal blooms release toxins that contaminate drinking water and create ‘dead zones’, disrupting entire aquatic ecosystems and the economy. At present, Drifters are undergoing field trials with the Sunshine Coast Council at Lake Currimundi and Pumicestone Passage.
Ideally, drifters would become an efficient and affordable way of tracking rivers, estuaries and reservoirs in several locations simultaneously. Their hope is that the Drifter’s accessibility will open new opportunities for community science projects by catchment management groups. In the past, Springwise have come across various innovative solutions for combating water pollution. For examples the ‘Envirobot’, uses robotics to detect insecticides and other pollutants in lakes. Similarly, RanMarine Technology’s ‘WasteShark’ is a waste-management system to prevent ocean pollution. How else can environmental technologies be applied to water treatment and control?