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Trinity College Dublin

Environmental Monitoring Using Sensors

Jane Stout, Jenny McElwain, Matt Saunders & Mary Bourke

Environmental sensors are becoming cheaper, smaller and have a growing capacity to provide more accurate and highly resolved local environmental data at landscape scales.

Sensor networks
The energy costs of networking environmental sensors is also falling with the development of Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networking technology. We are using IoT sensor networks to quantify the benefits of Nature-Based Solutions in both urban and rural settings to address questions such as:

  • What is the optimum planting plan on a city street to reduce glare, ameliorate local temperature and humidity?
  • What are the most appropriate tree species to reduce run-off in both rural and urban contexts
    under future climate change scenarios?
  • How can we better assess and upscale greenhouse gas emissions from natural and managed ecosystems?
  • What is the upper limit of change to the microclimate that nature-based solutions provide?

Biodegradable sensors
We are also researching the development of the ultimate in sustainable and fully biodegradable
sensors by trying to better understand the sensing capacity of plants. Plants can sense the local temperature, humidity, light and atmospheric environment at a much finer resolution than any current artificial sensor available on the market.

"We are conducting research which aims to better understand, quantify and harness the sensing capacity of natural-based sensors"

We are using plants in order to detect pollution at trace levels in the indoor environment. We are developing a plant sensor kit for use in experimental climate chambers that are used widely in academia and industry in order to ensure that the climatic conditions programmed into experimental chambers are standardized and calibrated correctly so that all lab-based climate change experiments are rigorously controlled and repeatable.

Responding to disasters
The availability of drone technology has pushed the boundary of how technology can improve our ability to respond to disasters rapidly. Drones capture high resolution images of otherwise inaccessible landscapes so that appropriate rescue assessment can be made.
We collaborate with industry leaders to develop and deploy Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) for measuring and monitoring landscapes and ecosystems. They use the data in natural hazards research, climate change impacts, seasonal-scale ecosystem changes and constructing topographic databases for flood flow modelling.

Terrestrial GHG dynamics
We are using multiple approaches to measure the carbon and greenhouse gas dynamics of terrestrial ecosystems to better determine the impact of climate, land use and management,
plant functional type, phenology and disturbance on the mitigation of climate change. Fast-response and low cost sensors are deployed in combination with near-earth and satellite based remote sensing systems and biogeochemical modelling techniques, to enhance the spatial resolution of this data and to better inform land management practices in light of future climatic variability.