New technology helps researchers monitor water levels in real time
  • Wednesday 18 July 2018
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Researchers developing a new water monitoring device have successfully conducted field testing in local waterways to produce real-time water quality data in a partnership with Sunshine Coast Council. 
“The Drifter” is the product of years of team research by QUT mechanical engineers Professor Richard Brown and Dr Kabir Suara and satellite engineers Professor Yanming Feng and Dr Charles Wang.
Professor Brown said that before this breakthrough, it was difficult to know what was happening to water quality and flow in real-time. 
“The Drifter makes it possible to get vital information on river waters as it happens,” Professor Brown said.
“Each Drifter is equipped with GPS so that we can track its location. They are specially weighted so they float only 1cm to 2cm above the water’s surface to ensure they are carried by the water and not the wind.”
Floating and fixed Drifters are currently undergoing field trials with the Sunshine Coast Council at Lake Currimundi and Pumicestone Passage
Environment Portfolio Councillor Jenny McKay said council officers had used the data to monitor water velocity, height, and basic water quality to help council’s management of Currimundi Lake.  
“The coastal processes at Currimundi have seen the lake mouth close several times this year,” Cr McKay said.
“In previous years we have manually closed and re-opened the lake to help manage levels of biting midge in the area. 
“To have this data on hand, allowsing us to get a better picture of the waterway in terms of velocity and height, has been very beneficial for us to improve our knowledge of the waterway, and better understand the way environmental and coastal processes intersect.”
Dr Suara said the Drifters would become a relatively affordable way to monitor rivers, creeks and estuaries at several locations simultaneously.
“They will enable us to pinpoint sources of pollutants in run-off and help understand how particular pollutants are mixing with the rest of the water” Dr Suara said.
“We will be able to monitor how changes in rainfall affect sediment load between summer and winter which could enable better understanding and prediction of algal blooms in particular locations.”
The researchers are hopeful that the low cost and accessibility of the Drifters will make it possible for community science projects by catchment management groups.