Beacon Institute Deploys First EON Sensor into Hudson River

On August 20, 2008, The Beacon Institute for Rivers and Etuaries deployed a new fixture on the Hudson River with the promise of improving our study, understanding, protection and stewardship of the river. Through a partnership with IBM and Clarkson University, The Beacon Institute delivered its first River and Estuary Observatory Network (REON) Sensor Platform to a location just off of Denning's Point in Beacon, New York.

The REON Sensor Platform has the capability to collect and measure, in real time, a variety of meteorological and hydrological parameters, such as wind direction, air and water temperature, barometric pressure, direction and flow rate of water, salinity, depth, sediment particle quantity and size, oxygenation and a host of other data. These data are collected through innovative, state-of-the–art environmental sensors and robotic technologies. Eventually, the information gathered by the sensor platform will be fed through IBM’s new “System S” stream computing system, which will gather, analyze, sort and visually portray data from multiple sensor platforms in the river. PV panels provide power to batteries on deck that power all the platform’s functions, including wireless communications, the robotic profiler that moves sensors up and down in the water, and the onboard computer.

In sharing his future vision of the Hudson River and the new technology, John Cronin, Director and Chief Executive Officer of The Beacon Institute in a radio interview with WAMC Public Radio's Susan Barnett on August 28, 2008 said, "we can get up in the morning and we can know what the weather is in Sri Lanka, but there isn't a community on the Hudson River, for example, that can tell you in real time what contaminants are in their drinking water. There isn't a scientist who can tell you in real time what fish are being killed on the river, where or why. We don’t have that information. Although we’ve had that technology in a multi hundred billion dollar world-wide monitoring system for weather, we don’t have it for rivers and estuaries."

Cronin, a member of the Environmental Consortium's Steering Committee, is quoted as saying, "[t]he task of the 20th century was to raise public awareness of environmental issues and address a century-old legacy of environmental abuses that plagued land, air and water. The challenge of the 21st century is to create the innovations that will harmonize the daily activities of the human community with the continuing needs of the local and global environment.

REON is a joint effort between Beacon Institute, IBM and Clarkson University. The sensor platform development is being led by the Institute’s REON Director of Research, James S. Bonner, Ph.D., P.E. Bonner is a nationally recognized expert in real-time water monitoring technologies, and also serves as Director of the Center for the Environment at Clarkson University. In the same WAMC interview, Bonner, in discussing issues concerning the hypoxia in Corpus Christi Bay which is specific to that region, said, "… likewise, when we understand the issues with the Hudson River, we can extend those issues to the Saint Lawrence River, or the Neuse River, or the Nueces River, or even the Nile River." Other members of the REON Sensor Platform Field Engineering Team include: David Bujnoch of Texas A&M University, Captain and Field Engineer; Beacon Institute’s Liesl Hotaling, Chief Education Officer; Courtland Herbert, Facilities Manager; and Robert Fine, Marine and Technology Specialist.

New and improved prototypes of the REON sensor platform are already in the works at the Institute. Ultimately, the platforms will be installed at locations along the entire length of the Hudson, providing minute-to-minute data from the Hudson’s headwaters in the Adirondacks, all the way down to where the River meets the Atlantic Ocean. As a key partner of the Environmental Consortium, Beacon Institute's programs and projects provide access to world class, cutting edge technology, facilities, and research right in our backyards.

Through REON, faculty and students will have unique opportunities and resources afforded to them in the Hudson Valley region. Student learning in the classroom will be enhanced by field work, data collection and interpretation which provide critical skill building, melding of disciplines and viewpoints that are attached to environmental issues, while at the same time fostering a sense of place, contribution and responsibility to a region that is home. Whether this "home" - the Hudson River watershed - is temporary or permanent for students, the experiences and knowledge will have lasting importance and influence on them during their academic careers. The partnership between the Beacon Institute and the Environmental Consortium forges new ground with a joint vision for the region and its environment, and synergistic capacity to work together towards its realization.

For more details about REON and the Beacon Institute, visit www.bire.org