Michigan researchers are developing sensors to detect oil spills in real time

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – The recent St. Marys River oil spill has sparked a new program at Lake Superior State University.

those of the university Center for Freshwater Research and Education is testing four self-contained real-time pollutant monitoring sensors with the goal of catching spills earlier and preventing greater damage.

Kevin Kapuscinski, deputy director of research at CFRE, said the project is still in its early stages and researchers have rushed to get the sensors into the water after an estimate 5,300 gallons of gear oil leaked at the Algoma steel mill in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., on May 9th

“We have four sensors out there. It’s a proof-of-concept pilot at this point,” Kapuscinski told News 8. “Three of those are for refined oil products, one of them is for crude oil products. But they all rely on their own independent power sources and can upload data in real time.”

Kapuscinski says if they can demonstrate that the monitors are reliable and easy to maintain, the project will be called “MiWaterNet” — may be expanded and turned over to a federal or environmental agency. The likely host? The US Coast Guard’s new National Center of Expertise in Oil Spill Response and Recovery, which will be housed in the same building as the CFRE.

Left is a photo of one of the LSSU CFRE sensors located in the St. Marys River near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. At right, a close-up of the sensor of some of the technologies used to upload real-time information to the cloud. (Courtesy of LSSU CFRE)

“It was primarily focused on small streams and real-time monitoring of water quality — so dissolved oxygen, temperature connectivity, runoff — but there was growing interest and concern about the potential for oil spills in the Great Lakes,” Kapuscinski said of his waterfront office in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

“As we speak, a freighter passes my office and we have so much more traffic on the Great Lakes,” he continued. “Every year there are a number of groundings. That’s a high probability event, much less risk of catastrophe than (a potential line 5 leak), but it’s a high probability event of something spilling from one of those grounded ships or other accidents like the ones we’re looking at across the river.”

Each sensor is hardwired to a solar panel to maintain a constant power source and uses cellular network to upload data to the cloud.

An oil spill sensor is installed in the St. Marys River. (Courtesy of LSSU CFRE)

“We can’t always be everywhere, but these sensors can be,” said Kapuscinski.

Currently, the CFRE has three main partners in the MiWaterNet project – LimnoTechwho helps with the sensors who Bay Mills Indian Communitywhich granted access to Sugar Island to place the monitors and CIGLR, the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Researchwhich provided $10,000 to fund the first sensors.

Now Kapuscinski and the CFRE are focusing on the next steps, monitoring their sensors and looking for funds to expand the project.

“When you talk about these sensor arrays, there’s initial installation, but then there’s also monitoring, troubleshooting, and eventually parts replacement and maintenance. So the funding has to go beyond the sensors,” said Kapuscinski. “We need to be able to fund the staff who know how to monitor and maintain these arrays. And of course other things like travel are also connected to it.”

Kapuscinski said he is confident in the project and expects expansion soon.

“I expect this to grow pretty quickly,” Kapuscinski said. “Technology is advancing and with the prioritization of the National Center of Excellence this will help to provide some funding for it and create a broader monitoring network.”

https://www.woodtv.com/news/michigan/michigan-researchers-develop-sensors-to-detect-oil-spills-in-real-time/ Michigan researchers are developing sensors to detect oil spills in real time

Dais Johnston

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