Novel Technologies for Environmental Monitoring

Project Summary

The river Kennet - a test site

This research will attempt to develop a novel, high-resolution, multi-parameter water quality measuring system using innovative miniaturised chemical sensing devices. The system will be tested and validated in the field, and the data obtained will be used to advance the science of hydrochemistry and initiate development of a new generation of catchment pollutant transport models. This will be achieved through the cross-disciplinary collaboration of analytical and environmental chemists and of hydrochemical modellers from the University of Reading, the University of Hull, CEH Wallingford and the Environment Agency.


The quality of surface waters is an increasing concern worldwide as demand for water grows and population pressures increase. Water quality is also affected by environmental change (e.g. climate and land use change) and much effort has been devoted to the development of simulation models capable of predicting the effects of such changes. Current dynamic simulation models of water quality have enjoyed some success, but the difficult problems involved mean that there has been limited progress over the past decade.

Water quality models are typically over-parameterized in that many different parameter sets can give equally good fits to calibration data but may give strikingly different predictions of hydrochemical response as conditions change. This is a serious deficiency given the current demand for predicting the effects of climate and land use change on water quantity and quality, not to mention the deficiency in understanding of hydrological systems that it implies.

The models, therefore, need to be improved, but it is important to avoid the development of elaborate models that match the calibration data even if their underlying premises are unrealistic. This project seeks to do this by developing the technology to make more detailed measurements of water quality parameters, and applying the results to develop and test a range of water quality models.

The development of new methods of high-frequency water quality measurement has been identified as likely to lead to advances in hydrological science. Recent developments in field-based analytical systems are now producing the first long-term continuous in-situ measurements of some nutrients in water. However, these are often based on 'ruggedisation' of standard laboratory instruments which tend to have high power consumption and are therefore restricted to sites where mains power is available, or require the installation of large solar panels. In addition, the instruments are costly, bulky, and have high reagent requirements with associated storage and disposal problems. They are highly visible and require secure housing which means that they are unsuitable for deployment at remote sites or those at risk of vandalism. They also have capability for analysis of only one or two determinands. This work aims to exploit recent advances in the miniaturisation ofchemical analysis systems to overcome these disadvantages. Led by colleagues at the University of Hull, part of the project aims to make environmental analysis systems which are smaller, cheaper, require less energy and reagent volumes, and measure a wider range of solutes simultaneously. At Reading, and in collaboration with the other project partners, we will devise ways to deploy these systems in the field, test and improve their responses, and use the results to develop better water quality and hydrological models.

Project Objectives

  1. Set up three monitoring sites covering a range of water quality types to collect high-frequency data using existing technology.
  2. Develop a working miniaturised ion chromatograph with adequate response characteristics for environmental analysis in the laboratory.
  3. Test the above instrument in the field in parallel with the conventional equipment, and thus develop a working system, by an iterative process.
  4. Use the data generated to address hydrochemical problems and develop new models.


The project at Readingis supported by a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of £307,513. It will run for 3 years from early summer 2009, and will involve contributions from Professor Andrew Wade, Professor Richard Skeffington and Emeritus Professor Paul Whitehead, and research student Sarah Halliday.

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