TideRiders: Toward a Citizen-Scientist-Enabled and Institution-Supported Distributed Sensor Network for Water Quality Monitoring

James W. Partan, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering, Woods Hole, MA, United States, Michael Jakuba, Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst., Woods Hole, MA, United States, Franklin Zhang, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Cambridge, MA, United States and Patrick McGuire, Brookline High School, Brookline, MA, United States
The advocacy activities necessary to sustain healthy watersheds and improve impaired ones ultimately rely on the democratic process, and therefore depend on a public that values our coastal resources and understands the role that water quality plays in maintaining that value. We contend that an opportunity exists to improve the temporal and spatial density of monitoring by reducing the cost of collecting measurements, while simultaneously fostering an informed and invested public. We envision a distributed water quality monitoring sensor network, composed of low-cost ($1000-$2000) profiling devices we call TideRiders, built and operated by private citizens and local educational organizations and supported by an institution-hosted centralized data and control portal.

The TideRider concept engages the public not just in the collection of data but also in the building, deployment, operation, and recovery of these robot sensors. TideRiders will carry a suite of basic water quality instrumentation (temperature, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen), transmit data and accept commands over the cellular network, and can sample surface and bottom waters by surfacing and submerging on a programmable schedule. Operators will harness tidal currents to move their TideRiders deliberately around an embayment, essentially by surfacing in a favorable tide and anchoring on the bottom in an adverse tide. A network of TideRiders deployed in tidally-dominated estuaries like Buzzards Bay and Narragansett Bay could provide basic water quality data at several-hour intervals for weeks at a time by “virtually mooring” in center-bay locations that are otherwise only accessible by boat and therefore typically sampled less frequently than shore stations.

We present preliminary field results from a series of prototypes designed and built by students. The prototype devices utilize a novel low-cost semi-passive shallow-water buoyancy engine and were constructed for less than $1000 in parts.