Aquatic drone pinpoints pollution hot spots

AquaBOT measures a range of water quality indicators, providing data for studies focused on clean water. Image: Natalie Griffiths/ORNL, US Dept. of Energy

An aquatic drone that monitors river water quality with precision and speed has been developed by a team of US innovators.

The AquaBOT measures water quality indicators such as nitrate, temperature and dissolved oxygen along the entire length of mid-sized streams where water quality can be variable. This gives a better overall picture of water quality than traditional methods, such as fixed-location sampling points.

AquaBOT was created at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, which is part of the US Department of Energy. Researchers are working with Drake University, Iowa, using AquaBOT to study streams in nearby croplands, evaluating potential sustainability practices with bioenergy crops. The team is also adapting the technology to measure climate-warming methane emissions from reservoirs.

"AquaBOT helps us identify hot spots where pollutants are flowing into waterways. Pinpointing these areas is the first step to understanding water quality changes and developing solutions,”

Natalie Griffiths, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Natalie Griffiths is a research staff member in the laboratory’s environmental sciences division. She said: “Compared to manual measurements taken in just a few locations, the drone gives a much more detailed picture of what’s happening along streams and rivers.

“AquaBOT helps us identify hot spots where pollutants, such as excess fertilizer, are flowing into waterways. Pinpointing these areas is the first step to understanding water quality changes and developing solutions.”