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Sensor-Equipped Unmanned Surface Vehicle for High-Resolution Mapping of Water Quality in Low- to Mid-Order Streams...

Publication Type
Journal Name
ACS ES&T Water
Publication Date
Page Numbers
425 to 435

Longitudinal profiling of water quality via the deployment of sensors from watercraft has advanced the understanding of spatial patterns in large rivers and lakes; however, a similar approach in low- to mid-order streams is lacking. To fill this gap, we developed an unmanned surface vehicle (USV)-water quality measurement platform (the “AquaBOT”). The components of the AquaBOT included a nitrate sensor, multiparameter sonde (temperature, conductivity, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll), quantum sensor, and global positioning system (GPS) mounted to a small pontoon-style USV. The AquaBOT was tested in four streams and rivers in Iowa and Tennessee. All measured water quality parameters varied longitudinally, and greater ranges were generally observed along the low-order, agriculturally influenced streams in Iowa. Nitrate, in particular, was spatially heterogeneous. For example, during one run in early June, concentrations ranged from 10.5 to 12.5 mg N L–1 along a 2.3 km reach and hotspots were observed directly downstream of some tile drains. The spatial resolution of AquaBOT data collected in June was 10× higher than grab sampling data, and measurements were collected in less time and at a comparable cost. The AquaBOT can complement existing measurement approaches and will lead to advancements in understanding the processes driving water quality along the stream-to-river continuum.