You are here

Scientists Develop Continuous Biogeochemical Monitoring of Columbia River Estuary

02/05/09 Portland, Ore.

LOBO  launch. Watch interview with Joe Needoba. WET Labs, Inc. senior research scientist Andrew Barnard, Ph.D. and CMOP researcher Joe Needoba, Ph.D. have teamed up to develop capabilities for high quality, long-term, operational biogeochemical monitoring of the Columbia River estuary.

Traditionally, monitoring biogeochemical levels in the water requires scientists to board a ship, collect water samples, transport them back to a lab, and then measure for nutrients in the water. These samplings are only a snapshot in time and don’t provide the temporal resolution necessary to understand the variability in the Columbia River estuary.

Barnard and Needoba decided to approach the problem by utilizing an oceanographic monitoring platform made by Satlantic and customizing it with enhanced anti-fouling capabilities and improved water quality sensors.

LOBO, Land/Ocean Biogeochemical Observatory, is a water quality monitoring device that takes hourly measurements of nitrate, salinity, temperature, chlorophyll, turbidity, conductivity, depth, dissolved oxygen, oxygen saturation, and colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM).

LOBO is part of the Science and Technology University Research Network (SATURN), an emerging end-to-end coastal margin observatory at CMOP. The data will provide the center with a better understanding of the ecosystem and composition of the water in the Columbia River.

“What we are trying to do is establish a monitoring system that allow us to gain an understanding of the variability of the water quality, not only every hour but over weeks, months, and years,” Needoba says. “What this will tell us is how the estuary is behaving and responding to various forcing factors.”

LOBO is currently located in the Lower Columbia River and uses cellular telemetry to relay data every hour to a web site interface. This gives virtually anyone access to the water quality readings anywhere there is an Internet connection. The web interface lets one graph and download an individual variable or multiple variables, on a single day or over multiple days.

Figure 1 Figure 2

  • The figure on the left shows a sample reading from LOBO of the levels of CDOM and Dissolved Oxygen over the period from January 1-5, 2009. The figure on the right is from an hourly reading of water quality

The LOBO system will serve as an important biogeochemical data node within CMOP. “What we are doing in the Columbia River estuary is part of a larger project within CMOP to provide a framework of water quality measurements to scientists studying the estuary and coastal ocean,“ Needoba says.

The next step is to use the upcoming CMOP research cruises to verify that the data from the LOBO mooring is representative of the estuary as a whole. Needoba plans to use this summers research cruises to study the variability associated with different regions of the estuary and ensure the parameters in the water quality his team measures in one specific site can be extrapolated to the entire estuary.

Barnard and his group at WET Labs, Inc. intend to expand the LOBOs biogeochemical monitoring capabilities by adding a new sensor to measurement dissolved phosphate in the water. “We will use our latest and greatest technology to create better capabilities for long term measurements and monitoring,” said Barnard.

View photos of CMOP scientific team launching LOBO →

Written by Jeff Schilling