Water Pollution Warnings Direct to Desktop - Thanks to New Technologies

Instant alerts on pollution incidents, falling water quality levels and poisonous plankton blooms in bays, rivers and lakes all over Ireland may soon be delivered directly to computer screens anywhere in the country thanks to a programme of new and innovative technologies, funded by the Marine Institute (MI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and announced at a workshop in Dublin today (Friday 31st, March).

Clean water is becoming a scarce resource, not only in Ireland, but worldwide. Long-term population growth, developments in agriculture and other sectors are threatening the quality of the water we drink and use. In 2000, the European Union's Water Framework Directive (WFD) came into force to protect aquatic resources and was transposed into Irish national legislation in 2003, with a significantly increased demand for water quality monitoring.

How can government agencies constantly monitor water quality across a wide range of parameters in remote areas of the country as required by the Directive at a realistic cost? The answer lies in the application of radical new approaches, being developed at research institutes across the country with funding from the Marine Institute and the EPA, to develop advanced remote sensor and monitoring technology that can be applied to the EU Water Framework Directive. Since these technologies can be applied not only in Ireland, but also across the world, this offers an opportunity for Irish researchers and businesses to play a significant role in what could be a highly lucrative market, estimated to be worth some €550 million in Western Europe alone.

The Dublin workshop, which aims to inform both researchers in other, related disciplines and SMEs operating in these technology sectors is a key aspect of this strategic programme. 'The marine and freshwater environment need to be monitored more closely than ever,' said Larry Stapleton, Director, EPA. 'We need to be alert to potential effects of climate change, and also, under the Water Framework Directive, we must monitor in new ways. This project can contribute to developing more efficient and effective monitoring techniques to meet these challenges.'

Significant Irish research and development capability already exists in the core technologies related to sensing, microelectronics, and communications, required to make remote water quality sensing a reality. However, up until now, researchers in these areas had not focused on water quality systems. Now the MI / EPA strategic programme aims to bring together key Irish research players to work initially on three projects involving collaboration between leading Irish research groups, and indigenous SMEs.

"The Institute warmly welcomes this example of partnership, in developing novel technological capabilities, that both supports the growth of the marine technology industry sector in Ireland and enables the environmental monitoring agencies to provide more effective services," said Peter Heffernan, CEO Marine Institute.

The three projects being funded under the first phase of this strategic programme are :

SmartCoast aims to develop novel sensors to continuously provide water quality data via wireless links to a web-enabled interface, thereby enhancing the ability of monitoring and regulatory bodies to achieve compliance with the WFD. This project involves collaboration between two leading research institutes (the National Centre for Sensor Research at DCU and The Tyndall National Institute at UCC), two companies (MAC in Limerick and Marine Informatics in Killaloe), the South West Regional Authority and the Marine Institute's catchment research facility at Newport, Co. Mayo;  

The Cytometry project aims to develop a miniaturised multi-channel system capable of detecting and counting bacteria and viruses in water. At present, this technique is limited to laboratory use. The new system will use cell counting coupled with suitable immunological (antibody) markers and fluorescence markers. The project partners are Tyndall National Institute and Dept of Zoology, Ecology and Plant Science, at UCC;  

The Optical Sensing project aims to deliver a new highly efficient and innovative monitoring system based on optical oxygen sensing (and respirometry). The new biosensor method will provide primary screening of marine samples thus allowing identification of contaminated, suspicious and life-threatening samples. The project consortium includes the Biochemistry Department of UCC, Luxcel Biosciences Ltd. (Co. Kildare) and the Environmental Research Institute at UCC.