The climate is changing, and the effects on estuaries and marine environments directly impact the seafood industry. Better information about what’s occurring in the coastal environment, particularly near fishing and aquaculture grounds, is essential so that scientists can investigate significant incidents such as changes in ecology or loss of fish stock.
But traditional measurement techniques of water quality parameters do not always give a complete picture of the marine environment. That’s because parameters are typically monitored using spot tests, which only provide a snapshot of a moment in time. An ambitious collaboration between Ireland and Wales, the STREAM project (Sensor Technologies for Remote Environmental Aquatic Monitoring), was conceived to tackle this information gap with continuous environmental data monitoring.
STREAM is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Ireland-Wales Cooperation programme. The STREAM project’s partners include the Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biotechnology Research Centre at South East Technological University (SETU); SETU’s ICT research wing, the Walton Institute; The Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating; Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research; and The Mass Spectrometry Group at Munster Technological University. An objective of the STREAM project is to deploy sensors in various locations, including underwater, which require reliable connectivity, to deliver continuous data streams that scientists need to assess the environment.
John Ronan, Technical Lead at the Research Infrastructure and Testbeds (RIT) group in the Walton Institute, said he examined other connectivity options for the sensors, but in the end, he chose traditional cellular with standard SIMs. “Some remote monitoring sites are connected by a wired connection, but there are other places that need wireless,” he said. “We examined Sigfox, LoRa, and dedicated wireless links, but there’s no countrywide LoRa infrastructure, and Sigfox didn’t have the bandwidth we needed. The newer sensors we’re deploying have a rich data set, sending information every 10 minutes.”
While John knew he wanted traditional SIMs, traditional telcos couldn’t help due to STREAM’s funding model. He needed to pay for five years’ worth of connectivity in advance as capital expenditure rather than the month-to-month billing that telcos were accustomed to. “I was introduced to Thinglabs because they could provide the SIMs, the expertise in IOT, and financial flexibility,” John said. “We began working together, and Thinglabs delivered quickly on what we needed.”
Thinglabs provided the SIMs needed for STREAM’s connected sensors, including the advance purchase of multiyear connectivity, and delivered different connectivity bundles to suit a mixture of test equipment. John can manage and monitor the SIMs and their usage centrally via the Thinglabs IoT Dash management portal.
The STREAM sensors are now reliably delivering a constant flow of information from test equipment, including weather stations, which provide fresh readings every 10 minutes, and sondes, the underwater sensors which report every 15 minutes. Data includes everything from wind speed and rainfall to water temperature, water salinity, nitrates in the water and dissolved oxygen content, all of which impact fish and shellfish health in the region.
STREAM has several aims, including a better understanding of the impact of climate change, lowering the cost of estuarine and marine observations, and accelerating data provision. As part of the project, STREAM scientists are developing and fabricating their own cutting-edge sensors that can provide real-time environmental data and disseminate it to organisations responsible for protecting and improving the Irish and Welsh waters. It was essential that the connectivity and management tools from Thinglabs could grow with the project through all its phases, including the deployment of the brand-new sensors, and that’s proven to be the case.
“Two of our own new sensors are connected via the Thinglabs SIMs, and more sensors are being developed by our partners in Wales,” John said. Additional sensors carrying weather and water data are to be deployed, joining those whose data is already being outputted to public sites for scientists and other stakeholders to tap, including Met Eireann’s http://met.wow.ie and https://grafana.marinestream.eu/.
Stakeholders outside the direct project partners include a range of bodies, from shellfish producers to county councils, the Environmental Protection Agency and Bord Iascaigh Mhara. Regular workshops will allow stakeholders to meet and discuss their findings.
The long-term partnership with Thinglabs provides peace of mind to John and his colleagues that they can rely on solid connectivity for the length of the STREAM project and beyond. “Thinglabs are great to work with because they understood what we needed, they were able to expedite shipping of the SIMs to meet a crunch deadline for us, and they’re easy to deal with – there’s no contrariness. I’ve recommended them to our colleagues and our partners.”