Reports indicate that nature has gone wireless in Ireland, where scientists have outfitted a major river with sensors that detect spikes in pollution in real time.
According to a report in National Geographic News, sensors recently placed at various points in the River Lee, near the city of Cork, send information on pollution levels back to a data center.
Water managers can keep tabs on pollutants entering the river and, if need be, mount an immediate response.
Called the DEPLOY project, the program was developed as a cheaper alternative to sending out scientists to collect water samples several times a day.
In addition, the technology can identify a disastrous influx of pollution, such as toxic industrial-chemical spills, before fish go belly up.
Citizens can also set up an account to get data reports, so they can receive text messages or emails whenever water quality reaches an unhealthy level at points in the river where people may kayak or swim.
"You can build a story about what is actually happening with the water," said Paul Gaughan, a project coordinator at the Marine Institute in Galway, Ireland, which is co-funding the initiative with the Irish Environmental Protection Agency.
The DEPLOY project launched with five monitoring stations in April 2009 along the River Lee, one of the largest rivers in southwestern Ireland.
DEPLOY will last roughly until next April, when scientists will decide if it's both technically and economically feasible to expand the program to other European rivers.
Pollution concerns in Ireland include nutrient-rich runoff from farmland and inadequate wastewater treatment-often made worse by Ireland's notoriously heavy rainfall.
The nitrogen and phosphorus in the runoff encourage algal blooms, which flourish in the summer when temperatures rise. The blooms tend to kill off river wildlife by sucking up the water's oxygen.
The sensors not only detect potential pollutants-such as chlorophyll, a warning sign of an algae bloom-the machines also run routine river "check-ups."
For instance, the sensors measure temperature and the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water every 10 to 15 minutes, which tells scientists whether a water body has enough oxygen to support life.
If successful, DEPLOY and other water-monitoring projects across the globe could help build a case for widespread wireless environmental monitoring.