The ability to remote monitor river and stream levels is possible with IoT technology. IoT allows you to remotely monitor river levels in multiple locations accurately, and the data can be transmitted back wirelessly in real-time. In this blog post, we look at the different components and sensors required to monitor river levels.
The three most common sensors that are used to measure river levels with IoT are ultrasonic, radar and depth sensors. In this post, we are going to focus on the use of the ultrasonic sensor.
To provide a simple explanation, we have broken the solution into Sensors, Network and Cloud.
- Sensors. Libelium Plug&Sense (Smart Water Xtreme or Smart Cities), with the Ultrasonic Sensor (Maxbotix MB7040). A radar sensor can be used in place of the ultrasonic sensor, with the added benefit of increased accuracy and range.
- Network. The Libelium Plug&Sense supports LoRa, 3G/4G, Sigfox, WiFi and Zigbee/XBee. For remote locations, there is also the option of using a LoRa-Satellite gateway.
- Cloud. A range of cloud platforms are supported. The most common platforms that we work with include Microsoft Azure, AWS, in addition to custom web applications and conventional database systems.
Libelium Plug&Sense sensor node allows you to connect a variety of sensors (up to six).
For this scenario, we will be connecting the Maxbotix ultrasonic sensor. For river applications, you may also want to include temperature, humidity and pressure, a weather station and even a water-flow-meter.
An ultrasonic sensor works by emitting sound toward an object and detecting the sound reflecting. The sensor then measures the time between each point to determine the distance between the sensor and the object being measured. The sound emitted by the sensor is at a high frequency, inaudible to the human ear, but it allows for a focused ‘beam’ (42KHz).
The Maxbotix I2CXL can detect the distance of an object at a range of up to 10m, with a 1cm granularity.
How do I power the sensor?
The Libelium Plug&Sense includes a built-in 6000mA-H battery and support for an external solar panel. The use of batteries and renewables allows the sensor nodes to be deployed in remote environments.
Wireless technologies such as LoRa, WiFi, 3G/4G and Sigfox are all supported by the Libelium Plug & Sense. The flexible range of options allows you to choose the right wireless technology to send data back to your systems or application servers. For very remote locations, a technology such as LoRa (supported by the node) and a LoRa-Satellite gateway, allows water monitoring from any location in the world!
Data from the sensors (once transmitted) needs to be processed and stored. The use of cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure is perfect for IoT. However, the platform supports sending data to Azure, AWS and familiar application/database servers. Once in the cloud, you can develop additional functionality such as alerting and notifications (i.e. if the river level exceeds a given level, or there is an upwards/downwards trend of significance).
Remote water level monitoring solution
The Sensor node is attached to a river structure such as a bridge or installed on a pole adjacent to the river that needs to be monitored. The Ultrasonic sensor is connected to the node and installed above the body of water. At this point, the sensor will be measuring the distance between itself and the body of water.
At this point, if you know the depth of the river at this point – any increase or decrease in the sensor value (i.e., 25cm) would indicate a reduction in water levels, while any increase (+15cm) would suggest an increase in water levels.
The sensor node (Libelium Plug&Sense) will then transmit this measurement back to the cloud platform. Measurement intervals can be as little as a few seconds, but a practical range would be every 15 minutes. For higher-risk rivers or where pre-emptive flood detection is needed – you may want to measure levels every minute.
The only disadvantage of more aggressive sampling intervals is on the battery life of the sensor node. More measurements mean more power consumption – an important consideration if the sensor node is being powered from the battery and solar.
Alert and notifications
Once the data is in a cloud platform, applications can be developed that do the following:
- Visualise the water-level data on a dashboard.
- Send text messages when water levels exceed a given value.
- Generate alerts (text or e-mail) when the water levels increase at a given gradient.
- Send messages via Slack, Microsoft Teams or WhatsApp when thresholds are exceeded.
- Combine reports with weather data, to understand the correlation and risk factors associated with water levels and weather.
Early warning flood monitoring
It is easy to see how the system can be extended for use in flood monitoring and flood protection scenarios:
- Sensors can be deployed throughout the entire Long Profile of a river or river network (i.e. lower, middle and upper courses).
- Levels of rivers, lakes and streams throughout the network can be monitored.
- River sensors can be combined with weather stations to monitor rainfall.
- The rate at which river levels increase throughout the network can be monitored in real-time.
It is possible to monitor river velocity and flow using radar planar microwave technology, with doppler radar technology.
Digital Twins – Rivers
The data arising from sensors can be used to create Digital Twins of rivers systems. IoT technology can be the foundation of a Digital Twin solution when coupled with the data analysis, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and visualisation tools.
Additional sensors can be incorporated into a Digital Twin:
- Soil moisture sensors at different depths allow you to monitor the status of the water table.
- Weather stations allow accurate analysis of weather data such as rainfall, pressure, temperature, wind and solar radiation.
- External data sources such as topographic and terrain data.
Data visualisation and reporting
The data collected from IoT sensors can naturally be used for detailed data analysis and reporting. Depending on the choice of platform, data can be brought into common database platforms such as Microsoft SQL Server or MySQL. The resultant data can then be visualised using tools such as Power BI, Tableau and Zoho Analytics. For more simple use-cases, data can be downloaded in CSV or Excel format.
- River level sensor – Ultrasonic, radar and pressure sensors.
- Weather stations – Rainfall, wind, solar radiation, pressure and temperature.
- Turbidity, ORP, Dissolved Oxygen
- Soil moisture sensors – available at different depths
- River flow and velocity sensors – Radar/Doppler sensors
What else can I monitor?
In addition to water levels, we can monitor a wide range of parameters associated with water such as pH, ORP, Dissolved Oxygen, BOD/COD and conductivity. To learn more, review the following blog posts:
- Smart Water with IoT
- Monitoring Turbidity with IoT
- Monitoring water quality with IoT and Microsoft Azure
IoT is an excellent solution for remote monitoring river levels in a high accuracy manner. Ultrasonic sensors and the Libelium Plug&Sense offers a field-proven and reliable solution that supports a range of communications technologies.
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