Monitoring sources of freshwater around the world in real-time is becoming more important as human impacts and climate change increase the threats to freshwater.
As one of four Canadian universities part of the Real-time Aquatic Ecosystem Observation Network (RAEON), a $15-million freshwater monitoring and research initiative, Trent University will have access to high frequency probes and sensors as well as autonomous underwater vehicles to push the boundaries of aquatic research.
The network of these cutting-edge sensors will enable the collection of high intensity, high frequency and real-time water content data, such as water quality, fish movement, fish biomass and other things in the lake sediment. The vehicles are able to go on missions in deep lakes and collect extensive data at unprecedented spatial scales. The use of continuous water quality variables can provide early warnings for managing taste, odor and toxins in drinking water, especially when collected in real–time.
Sharing Data with International Freshwater Experts
Trent biology professor Dr. Maggie Xenopoulos introduced the infrastructure and methodology of RAEON to 200 international researchers recently at the 21st Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) in Huntsville, Ontario, a sold-out event.
“RAEON will be able to join and contribute data to GLEON, a global network that already has a number of monitoring sites around the world,” says Professor Xenopoulos. “While there are other Canadian organizations contributing data to GLEON, water data collected by underwater vehicles will be a first for the network.”
The underwater vehicles will not only improve the quality of real-time data collected from Canada’s lakes, they will also open up opportunities to collect data that was previously inaccessible.
“In Canada, we are so lucky to have so much water here, but we understand just a fraction of it,” says Prof. Xenopoulos. “What happens in the winter is a black box because it’s really hard to sample under ice. The RAEON vehicles can help fill this serious gap.”
Contributing data collected by RAEON to the global network is a benefit for Canada, as the many members of the global network have unique, diverse skills, such as being able to analyze big data sets, which RAEON’s sensors produce (e.g. collecting water temperature every five minutes).
Educating Local Communities and Citizens
However, this data is not only for the expert community.
“We live in a data rich society now so collecting data is valuable for policy makers, water managers, and scientists, but also for citizens to better understand our lakes,” says Prof. Xenopoulos.
As part of the GLEON conference, Prof. Xenopoulos was also invited to be part of a panel of international experts at a public event in Bracebridge, Ontario. In this event, Prof. Xenopoulos presented to the Muskoka community her research on flooding funded through a $5-million Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) strategic network, FloodNet.
“In Canada, floods are the most commonly, largely distributed natural hazard to life, property, economy and the environment,” says Prof. Xenopoulos. “FloodNet is improving our flood forecasting capacity especially as Canadians are now facing a new reality of flooding, in part due to poor land use practices.”