Sensors help scientists see under the Hudson River

Tuesday, 07 July 2009 12:44

clearwater070709_optProgram monitors temperature, tides


The Hudson River can be serene as it offers ever-changing views, from the majestic skyline of Manhattan to the wooded shorelines throughout Putnam and Duchess counties. It is what happens under the water, however, that is of particular interest to a consortium of scientists and environmentalist. What they see is a dynamic river even on its quietest days.

Last week, researchers from the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. equipped the sloop Clearwater, based in Poughkeepsie, with instrumentation that will provide real-time transmission of surface water temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen concentrations along the entire length of the estuary.

The Clearwater sensor is the latest addition to the Hudson River Environmental Conditions Observing System (HRECOS). This network of high frequency monitoring stations on the Hudson River Estuary from Schodack Island to the New York/New Jersey Harbor delivers data every quarter hour to the system's website.

HRECOS provides a comprehensive view of environmental conditions in the Hudson River Estuary. High frequency data allow researchers to identify changes across a range of time scales, from daily tidal cycles to seasonal patterns. They also help identify ecosystem effects caused by severe flooding and storm surges.

Alan Blumberg, director of the Maritime Studies department at Stevens, said a successful installation on Clearwater builds upon the university's previous work with the sloop Pioneer.

"The vision is for several mobile sensors, thus building a comprehensive network that spans the entire Hudson River simultaneously," said Blumberg.

The cost of the $16,000 sensor is funded by the Hudson River Foundation.

Music legend and environmental activist Pete Seeger created Clearwater in 1969, and the group soon launched the sloop, a majestic replica of the one-masted sailboats that sailed the Hudson in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The 106-foot-long ship was among the first vessels in the U.S. to conduct science-based environmental education aboard a sailing ship, virtually creating the template by which such programs are conducted around the world today.

HRECOS manager, Simon Litten of the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the addition of the Clearwater to the HRECOS network would add an important location to the system when the vessel is anchored in Poughkeepsie.

"We look forward to working with Stevens and the Clearwater organization to enhance public awareness and the educational goals of HRECOS," he said in a statement.

Blumberg and his team installed the sensor on the bow of the sloop. The data collected will be transferred to the Davidson Laboratory at Stevens' campus in Hoboken, and the information will be displayed in almost real-time on the HRECOS website.

This data is not only helpful to scientists and environmentalists; recreational users of the river are encouraged to visit the website as well. Kayakers can access forecasts for wind and current conditions, and anglers can monitor salinity and temperatures.

The Department of Environmental Conservation will also post bimonthly stories to the website, aimed at showing the public the wonders of the river.

Along with Stevens and the Department of Environmental Conservation, a consortium of partners in government and the research community operates HRECOS, including the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Hudson River Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey.

"A successful installation on Clearwater could be a prototype for similar installation on other vessels," said Blumberg. "The data we gather will have a tremendously positive impact for all those who use and admire the Hudson River."

Comments (1)
1 Wednesday, 08 July 2009 12:16
Rosi Efthim
The decades-long wave of good work and inspiration that has issued from the work and the activism of Pete Seeger is an extraordinary arc. I'm happy that I live in this guy's times.
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