A MONOCLE view of water quality monitoring

03 September 2018

Last week the international research team of the MONOCLE project gathered around Loch Leven in Kinross, Scotland for their first field campaign. MONOCLE (Multiscale Observation Networks for Optical Monitoring of Coastal waters, Lakes and Estuaries), led by Plymouth Marine Laboratory, is developing water quality observation solutions using a combination of satellites, buoys, ships, drones and hand-held devices. The field instruments range from highly accurate automated systems to low-cost sensor solutions that can be built and operated by the public.

We had a great week at Loch Leven with everything pretty much going according to plan, even the sun came out! Stefan Simis, our Scientific Coordinator and Scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, was happy to see that: “Although it is still early in the project, getting the sensor prototypes out in the field provided a lot of useful data, and inspiration for the teams to further their development in the upcoming months. The support which we received on site from local stakeholders really contributed to this success”.

Nestled on the east coast of Scotland, Loch Leven is already equipped with a number of environmental sensors and a popular study site of the University of Stirling as well as the National Environment Research Council’s (NERC) Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. It is also a site with protected bird populations so that the test campaign, which involved flying a number of drones, had to be carefully planned in collaboration with the land owner as well as local authorities, the nearby gliding centre and nature conservation bodies (Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB). It was the first time that our professional drone pilots operated three platforms simultaneously over a body of water, with several boats deployed in the area to collect reference optical data.

Drone pilot Stanislas van der Vaeren (of Sitemark) describes how: “One of the exercises at Loch Leven included flying with three drones simultaneously, to compare the sensors mounted on the drones, which meant we had to fly in close proximity to each other, all while keeping aligned with the boat drivers below. This was no easy feat!”

Using different approaches such as drone imagery and analysis of water samples from the same locations provides invaluable information, which we will use to help us interpret large-scale satellite images.

The MONOCLE team at Loch LevenThroughout the week we also ran a Citizen Science programme, which brought together local people to learn some quick and easy ways to get involved with monitoring water quality in their local area. Steven Loiselle from Earthwatch Europe commented: “the MONOCLE field campaign demonstrated the high potential for integrating both high and low technology in Citizen Science monitoring of Lochs”.  Hear more about what Steven has to say about citizen science.

The enthusiasm of Loch Leven citizen scientists and local stakeholders was phenomenal and made a great contribution to the field campaign.  We hope that their passion can continue to feed into the sustainable management of the Loch Leven catchment.  Karol Swanson, one of the local participants, contacted us after the event to say: “Thank you for the opportunity to become a Freshwater Watch Volunteer. I only hope that we get a chance to use these skills again in the near future while our enthusiasm is still high!” Follow-up after the initial introduction will be discussed with SNH and scientists from CEH.

Drone shot from above of the MONOCLE team on boats on the LochInitial results confirmed that low-cost consumer drones would be able to capture relevant imagery for water quality mapping. Further tests are planned in the coming years at Lake Balaton in Hungary, lakes around Stockholm (Sweden), the Danube delta in Romania and Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania, while the team improve methods for image interpretation and sensor calibration. The team will also continue to explore how local stakeholders can interact with researchers, consultants and citizens to access relevant environmental data from low-cost devices.

The MONOCLE field campaign organizers wish to express their thanks to Neil Mitchell from Scottish Natural Heritage, who provided fundamental support and guidance throughout the week, facilitating relationships with many local stakeholders. Many thanks also to Laurence Carvalho from CEH who joined us during the week to ensure that the visiting (professional and citizen) scientists had a clear understanding of the historical importance of the Loch and catchment.

MONOCLE is coordinated by the team at Plymouth Marine Laboratory who want to thank everyone involved, especially our hosts from the University of Stirling, and all the local stakeholders for their hard work and invaluable support throughout this challenging but highly productive week at Loch Leven. Take a look at our video diary to get a bird’s eye view of Loch Leven and see just a few of the team’s activities in Scotland.  

Keep an eye on our website www.monocle-h2020.eu and our Twitter @monocle_h2020 for updates and information about our next field campaign at Lake Balaton during the summer of 2019.

Loch Leven showing tiny drones in the sky
Spot the drone.. How many can you see in the sky?

Related information and links

Watch the video diary above to see more of the team at Loch Leven

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