Drones to monitor water quality

Andrew Tyler

SCIENTISTS from the University of Stirling have launched a project today using new technology to enhance the monitoring of water quality.
Along with the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and colleagues from across Europe, they are testing cutting edge techniques as part of a €5 million scheme funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme.
Around 20 scientists are gathering at Loch Leven, Kinross-shire, where they will study the feasibility of using drone and other in situ technology to monitor the quality of water.
The work, which takes place over the next three days, will dovetail with a Stirling led project that is using satellites to monitor water quality from space.
Scientists hope that information gathered from drones or lochside devices will help address gaps in conventional monitoring and support data collected with satellites.
Professor Andrew Tyler, deputy dean and associate dean for Research in the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Stirling, leads the £2.9 million GloboLakes project, which uses satellites of the European Space Agency to monitor water quality, including the detection of algal concentrations, harmful algal blooms, and mineral and organic matter.
While the project team believes the technology has the ability to help monitor the millions of lakes across the world, the latest study, MONOCLE, addresses specific gaps in data.
Professor Tyler said: ‘Only a small fraction of the world’s 100 million lakes are routinely monitored – largely due to their geographical spread and the logistical and political difficulties of monitoring water.
‘The GloboLakes project has shown that, by using satellites, we can measure the constituents that contribute to water quality by their absorption and scattering of characteristics within the water column associated with lakes, reservoirs, rivers and estuaries.
‘However, there are often gaps in this data – perhaps due to cloud cover, or because the bodies of water are too small to be monitored by the satellites.
‘Therefore, the MONOCLE project now tries to fill the gaps in the data by using in situ and drone based technologies.’
MONOCLE involves 12 partners and is led by Stefan Simis, earth observation scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.
He said: ‘It is essential to obtain regular and widespread measurements of water quality in lakes, estuaries and coastal waters, both to support satellite observations and in their own right – we use satellites to relate water colour to water quality, while measurements in the field are essential to monitor further chemical and biological properties.
‘Deploying sensors is unfortunately still a costly effort and one of the aims of MONOCLE is to bring down this cost.
‘Our international colleagues visiting lochs in Scotland this week are developing methods to use consumer drones and sensors which you can build yourself, alongside highly accurate measurement instruments.’
After trialling the technology at Loch Leven, further tests will take place in Sweden, Hungary, Romania and Tanzania – assessing and comparing both low to high cost solutions and promoting the engagement of citizens in the monitoring of water.
Prof Tyler added: ‘This project at Loch Leven is the first in a series, in which we will look at how different instruments work, how they compare and what factors influence that comparison.
‘We hope that, by the end of this project, both low and high-tech solutions will be available to provide information that validates existing satellite technologies and provide solutions to the gaps in space and time from satellite data covering these dynamic yet vulnerable environments.’
Picture: Professor Andrew Tyler of the University of Stirling


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