UMass Buoys Track Bacteria in Neponset River

Scientists with the UMass Boston Center for Coastal Environmental Sensing Networks (CESN) have developed and deployed five environmental monitoring buoys in Boston’s Neponset River Watershed for tracking dangerous bacteria levels and unusual environmental conditions off Boston Harbor.

The monitoring buoys were developed as part of CESN’s Boston Environmental Area Coastal Observation Network (BEACON) project, a two-year program funded by the Department of Energy and the Office of Naval Research, according to an Aug. 19 press release. The buoys are tracking near-shore climate conditions around the harbor and measuring colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) content in area estuaries on a 24/7 basis.

Each buoy is outfitted with a Web-based weather station from Cape Cod-based Onset Computer Corporation, which measures air temperature, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, barometric pressure, and other environmental parameters. The stations transmit the information to the Internet via cellular networks.

The collected data, which will be made available to the public on the Internet, will alert the researchers to dangerous bacteria levels in the water, rising seas, and unusual weather events that occur in the area.

“The Neponset is one of the big CDOM contributors to Boston Harbor, yet many people are unaware of the conservation issues connected to this important water system” said Franceso Peri, managing director for CESN. “By monitoring the system closely and raising public awareness, we are hoping to increase pressure on local decision makers who can help implement policies to help preserve the watershed.”

The network of monitoring buoys, according to Peri, represents a test-bed for innovative sensor technologies that CESN hopes to build upon over the next decade.

“What we are building is a scalable sensor infrastructure where we can easily add more sensors around Boston Harbor for greater measurement profiles," he says. “Eventually, we are hoping to establish a sensorial “skin” over the watershed so we can sense everything that is happening there.”

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