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Environmental Monitoring: Approaching Fidelity in Aquatic Contaminant Monitoring

OPTICSWater is one of the most effective transport pathways for many of the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and metals in the environment raising ecological and human health concerns. This is especially true during large storms. Even with today’s technological advances in environmental monitoring methods, expensive and time-consuming manual sampling and laboratory techniques are required to understand what’s in our water. Furthermore, spikes in concentrations of these contaminants resulting from events such as hurricanes are often not captured nor well understood.

Fortunately, POPs and metals are often associated with specific substances in water, such as sticky algae or mud. Even better news is that these substances in water can be monitored by measuring how they respond to light stimulation. In other words, substances like algae and sediment can be monitored by virtue of their optical properties, which scientists and engineers have done for decades to monitor drinking water quality. With a good understanding of easily measured properties of water for which POPs and metals are known to be associated with, it’s a natural conclusion to use them as a surrogate for these contaminants.

Environmental scientists at Integral Consulting Inc. (Integral) have recently conducted studies to monitor POPs and metals in estuaries and rivers across the U.S. using optical monitoring techniques. Collectively, they call the techniques “OPTICS” for OPTically based In situ Characterization System (patent pending). Optical instruments roughly the size of a soda can are fixed in place underwater to make continuous measurements of how material in the water responds to light stimulation. The collected optical data are analyzed with statistical models to accurately relate substances in the water to contaminant concentrations. For the contaminant studies conducted to date using OPTICS, the comparisons with traditional, manually sampled laboratory data show excellent agreement. This optical monitoring technique provides a new and innovative tool for continuous monitoring of complex contaminant transport in water bodies, including contaminant source characterization and plume identification, pollutant transport direction, potential human and ecological effects, and monitoring the effectiveness of site remediation activities. OPTICS provides a significant advancement over the complex, costly, and often ineffective manual data collection and analysis.

Integral’s scientists maintain a full array of optical, acoustic, and other environmental monitoring tools to assist clients with a wide range of site monitoring needs. These tools can be deployed rapidly to support a wide range of environmental applications. The Integral team continues to advance the science in high-fidelity cost-effective monitoring and modeling tools for environmental and engineering applications.

For more information, contact Craig Jones, Ph.D., at cjones@integral-corp.com, Grace Chang, Ph.D., at gchang@integral-corp.com, or Todd Martin, P.E., at tmartin@integral-corp.com.

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