Mobile Phone Based Participatory Sensing in Hydrology

Monday, 15 December 2014
Christopher Lowry, University at Buffalo, Geology, Buffalo, NY, United States, Michael N Fienen, USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center, Middleton, WI, United States and Marc Böhlen, University at Buffalo, Media Study, Buffalo, NY, United States
Although many observations in the hydrologic sciences are easy to obtain, requiring very little training or equipment, spatial and temporally-distributed data collection is hindered by associated personnel and telemetry costs. Lack of data increases the uncertainty and can limit applications of both field and modeling studies. However, modern society is much more digitally connected than the past, which presents new opportunities to collect real-time hydrologic data through the use of participatory sensing. Participatory sensing in this usage refers to citizens contributing distributed observations of physical phenomena. Real-time data streams are possible as a direct result of the growth of mobile phone networks and high adoption rates of mobile users. In this research, we describe an example of the development, methodology, barriers to entry, data uncertainty, and results of mobile phone based participatory sensing applied to groundwater and surface water characterization. Results are presented from three participatory sensing experiments that focused on stream stage, surface water temperature, and water quality. Results demonstrate variability in the consistency and reliability across the type of data collected and the challenges of collecting research grade data. These studies also point to needed improvements and future developments for widespread use of low cost techniques for participatory sensing.