Environmental Sensors Workshop unites geoscientists
The University of Delaware's Hugh R. Sharp is a mid-sized research vessel designed for expeditions lasting up to 21 days, most of which take place in the Mid-Atlantic coastal region. Photo by Jon Cox
DORA, a modular and reconfigurable autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) operated by the research group of Art Trembanis in the College of Marine and Earth Studies. DORA can carry different sensor combinations and can travel 3-4 knots for 8 hours on a mission. Photo by Art Trembanis
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8:07 a.m., Jan. 22, 2009----The Environmental Sensors Workshop, held Jan. 9 at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, brought together the leaders of major monitoring and sensing initiatives across the state to describe their organizations' current capabilities, discuss emerging needs and explore partnerships.

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“This marks the beginning of us speaking as one voice, talking about the Delaware observing systems,” said Delaware NSF EPSCoR Director Steven Borleske, who helped plan the workshop. “We will be developing a more coordinated approach to future projects and funding opportunities.”

Delaware's National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant sponsored the event, with assistance from the University of Delaware's Center for Critical Zone Research.

Center director Donald L. Sparks, S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Plant and Soil Sciences, and assistant director Amy Broadhurst assisted with workshop planning.

EPSCoR, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, aims to help states become more competitive in certain areas of research.

Delaware NSF EPSCoR seeks to improve the state's environment through research, education and economic development. Environmental sensing and monitoring is one of the grant program's three research themes for the next five years.

Environmental sensing resources in Delaware

Delaware has a multitude of environmental sensing resources and several groups who develop sensors.

The workshop successfully gathered sensor makers and users and allowed experts to present the work their organizations or research groups are conducting.

Delaware Environmental Observing System (DEOS)

Dan Leathers, a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Delaware, co-chaired the workshop with George Luther, the Maxwell P. and Mildred H. Harrington Professor of Oceanography in UD's College of Marine and Earth Studies.

Leathers shared the offerings of the Delaware Environmental Observing System (DEOS), which gathers real-time data from almost 400 sensing platforms across the Delmarva Peninsula and Delaware River watershed and makes the data available on its public Web site.

“DEOS is a tool for decision makers involved with emergency management, natural resource monitoring and transportation in Delaware,” said Leathers. “DEOS also provides both state agencies and the citizens of Delaware with immediate information as to environmental conditions in and around the state.”

Delaware Bay Observing System (DBOS)

Bruce Lipphardt, an assistant professor of physical ocean science and engineering at UD, discussed the physical and chemical measurements in Delaware Bay, many of which were initiated as part of the Delaware Bay Observing System (DBOS), started by Mohsen Badiey, director and professor of physical ocean science and engineering.

Lipphardt's research group operates a network of three high-frequency (HF) radars that measure hourly surface currents at the Delaware Bay mouth.

“The U.S. has national integrated ocean observing with 11 regional associations,” said Lipphardt. “The University of Delaware is part of MACOORA, the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Observing Regional Association, which includes 30 investigators at 20 institutions.”

As part of MACOORA, surface current maps are archived on a national HF radar server and are available to the public on the Web.

Lipphardt said his research group has a number of other analysis products that they would like to see available on the Web in the future.

Lipphardt discussed resources like DORA, a modular and reconfigurable autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) operated by Art Trembanis, assistant professor of geological science, and his research group in the University's College of Marine and Earth Studies.

Acoustic Doppler current profilers (ADCPs) are also available to measure ocean currents throughout the water column.

Luther's research group operates an integrated mooring system capable of high-resolution time series of chemical and physical seawater properties in the bay.

A regional wireless radio network called SWAP, operating at the bay mouth, provides Internet access to communicate with and download data from multiple sensors and moorings.

Delaware Estuary Watershed to Ocean Observing System (DEWOOS)

Jonathan Sharp, professor of oceanography at UD and another organizer of the workshop, talked about the Delaware Estuary Watershed to Ocean Observing System (DEWOOS), whose purpose is to develop an effective observing system of the Delaware Estuary.

“The Delaware Estuary should be a national example,” said Sharp. “It serves the fourth largest urban region in the U.S., provides 16 million people with drinking water, and is one of the largest estuaries in the country.”

DEWOOS has multiple programs and resources available for environmental monitoring, such as Delaware River Basin Commission boat run monitoring, U.S. Geological Survey gauging stations, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ports, DEOS, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control real-time sites in Delaware Bay, and the microbial observatory run by David Kirchman, Maxwell P. and Mildred H. Harrington Professor of Marine Biosciences in UD's College of Marine and Earth Studies.

“We are making progress in this effort to increase monitoring in the estuary, with a lot of cooperation among state agencies, federal agencies and universities,” said Sharp.

Mid-Atlantic Coastal Observing Regional Association (MACOORA)

Carolyn Thoroughgood, UD special assistant to the provost for program development and professor of marine biosciences, and David Chapman, MACOORA executive director and associate research scientist in the marine policy program at UD, discussed the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Observing Regional Association (MACOORA).

MACOORA is one of 11 regional associations around the country conducting coastal ocean observing and providing real-time, continuous information to users, in order to improve the efficiency and safety of marine operations, assist with national security, predict natural hazards and climate change, improve public health and protect and restore healthy ecosystems.

Thoroughgood, who is president of the MACOORA board of directors, said, “There is an effort to set up regional capabilities. Being able to collect, integrate, and interpret regional data to address stakeholder needs is very important.”

University of Delaware Center for Remote Sensing

Through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's EPSCoR program, the directors of the University of Delaware Center for Remote Sensing, Xiao-Hai Yan, Mary A.S. Lighthipe Chair of Oceanography, and Victor Klemas, professor emeritus of oceanography, have received a $1.5 million grant to conduct projects like remote sensing of hydrologic and coastal resources, remote sensing of wetlands and remote sensing of land resources.

“Remote sensing offers one of the most effective ways to study and monitor the critical zones of the land and sea,” said research associate Young-Heon Jo.

Other mobile assets

Matthew Oliver, assistant professor of oceanography at UD, uses NASA and NOAA funding to conduct space-based, AUV-based and ship-based oceanography.

He is collaborating with GMI, a company doing research for an offshore wind power project in Delaware, and is developing water mass maps of the ocean and salinity maps of Delaware Bay. “We want to make that information easily accessible to the public,” Oliver said.

Air quality

Murray Johnston, a professor in UD's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, would like to see the development of an enhanced statewide air quality network, as he works with organizations like the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) to understand chemical processes and pollution sources that influence Delaware's air quality.

Emerging technologies

Luther discussed emerging technologies in the field of environmental sensing, like nanotechnology-enabled sensors for the geosciences and power from wind farm sites that might enable underwater video.

“It is here where those who make measurements intersect with those who make sensors for data collection,” Luther said.

Chris Heyer, the Mid-Atlantic representative for YSI, Inc., a sensor manufacturer with a strong relationship with many of the organizations represented at the workshop, said, “We strive to work very closely with both researchers and stakeholders to address their sensor and monitoring needs through the development of new technologies.”

The path forward

Workshop attendees agreed that the path forward for environmental monitoring and sensing in Delaware will involve continued coordination and leverage of the sensing capabilities offered by the University of Delaware and other organizations.

David Carter from DNREC discussed the benefits that his agency has received from sensor measurements in the past and said he was excited to see that EPSCoR was organizing Delaware assets so his agency could take better advantage of sensing and monitoring capabilities.

Hassan Mirsajadi, a DNREC engineer in the Watershed Assessment Section, said, “The sensing capabilities presented during the workshop can greatly enhance our areal and temporal monitoring coverage in a cost-effective manner.”

Don Knox, a planner for the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), said, “I can see DEMA collaborating with UD researchers in the future to improve monitoring and sensing systems that will provide more detailed and timely information to emergency managers, thus allowing them to make informed decisions.”

Gerald Kauffman, director of the Delaware Water Resources Agency, who served on the workshop organizing committee, said, “With the globe in economic drought, it is now more important than ever that we develop more efficient and innovative environmental sensors to protect our water resources. I am excited that the University of Delaware is embarking on this endeavor to protect the ecologic and economic value of our water supplies and proud to be a part of it.”

Article by Katie Ginder-Vogel