A global water crisis is expected by 2025 unless economically viable ways of purifying water can be developed.
One of the major threats to water supplies is contamination, from saltwater from industrial waste, from pesticides.
New sensors would help. Research labs are working on sensors specially designed to deal with monitoring and purification problems.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized DNA to detect trace amounts of lead, mercury, arsenic and other contaminants in water. The DNA sensors can be produced in the form of sophisticated testing instruments suitable for metropolitan water districts or in the form of strips — like a home pregnancy test — for households and other direct-source water users.
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The Water Cycle
And once you know your water is bad, what do you do about it? Urbana-Champaign is helping there as well. Mark Shannon, director of the Center of Advanced Materials for Purification of Water with Systems at the university, and his team have synthesized chemically activated fibers and granules of carbon to remove heavy metals and pesticides like atrazine.
Hudson River Project
A recent report from IBM called Water: A Global Innovation Outlook Report says there is a severe lack of data on water even in the world’s capital.
The report cites the Hudson River, one of the most dynamic and diverse bodies of water in the world. It courses 315 miles from the Adirondacks to the western shoreline of Manhattan. It’s used for drinking, heavy industry, fishing, navigation and recreation. And its watershed is home to 5 percent of the people in the U.S.
But study of this vital river system has been limited. That’s a problem. “If you’re trying to manage a system that’s changing dynamically you need to work with data that is equally dynamic,” says John Cronin, director of the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries. “You need to be able to monitor and observe the system in real time.”
To that end, the Beacon Institute is working with IBM to develop the River and Estuary Observation Network, a system of sensors and observation platforms that will feed a constant stream of data to scientists and analysts. REON will measure and monitor chemical, biological and physical data throughout the Hudson ecosystem using a combination of floating platforms, submerged buoys, even semiautonomous underwater robots.
The goal is to understand the river in real time and how it responds to everything from storms to droughts to humans. With that information, a new level of ecomanagement could be done. And that would be one small step in putting sensor technology to work in ways that will help society and businesses better understand the long-term challenges and benefits of managing the Hudson — and water everywhere. –Lee Bruno