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August 2020 eNews

UNM Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Develop Smart Sensing Technology to Characterize Aquatic Ecosystems

UNM Student Receives NM WRRI Student Water Research Grant to Develop Smart Sensing Technology to Characterize Aquatic Ecosystems

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Climate change, drought, and water scarcity are critically important issues in the western United States. Answers to questions like how much water do we have, what is the quality of this water, how much water does our natural environment need, and how should water be shared are vital for the economy, the environment, and the standard of living in places like New Mexico.

To help answer questions associated with aquatic mass balances, mass-energy balances, and, most importantly, water management, Aashish Khandelwal has proposed the development of a novel smart sensing technology called The Navigator. Khandelwal, a Civil Engineering PhD student at the University of New Mexico (UNM), has been awarded an NM WRRI 2020-2021 Student Water Research Grant to work on his project entitled, Development of The Navigator: A smart sensing system to characterize aquatic ecosystems.

The Navigator aims to perform high-resolution sampling of water quality parameters over spatial and temporal scales that are currently unattainable, i.e., at the sub-minute scale and following natural flow currents. Currently, aquatic monitoring is performed by sampling the water that passes through a monitoring cross-section, such as a bridge or a weir. At the monitoring cross-section, grab samples or semi-continuous sensors monitor water characteristics at frequencies ranging from sub-minute to days. This type of sampling, referred to as Eulerian, is widely used but limited. The smart sensing system that Khandelwal and his team seek to develop, with the help of the NM WRRI grant, will feature a solar powered neutrally buoyant sphere instrumented with a GPS tracker and electrical conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, photosynthetically active radiation, pH, and oxidation-reduction potential sensors. The Navigator will allow scientists and engineers to monitor aquatic systems along reaches of hundreds of kilometers. Lagrangian monitoring will allow freshwater scientists to close the gap between ocean and freshwater ecology, which has been overly reliant on Eulerian monitoring.

According to Khandelwal, “The merit of this research will be an increased understanding of mass-energy balances underlying pattern and process of our water systems, and a predictive understanding of the responses of land use changes along river networks. New Mexico can become a hotspot for intellectual, economic, and social development if we focus on our uniqueness to offer innovative solutions to pressing problems on water resources, which are relevant across the planet…The information extracted from those sensors (data analytics) will transform the next generations through access to real-time information, improved forecasting, management, and smarter allocation of resources…Most importantly, aquatic sensor development will empower citizen-based science, which will increase access to difficult-to-collect data, and improve their processing, visualization, and communication.”

Khandelwal, a student in the Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering Department at UNM, has begun work on this project under the guidance of his faculty sponsor Dr. Ricardo Gonzalez-Pinzon. Originally from Mumbai, India, Khandelwal received a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Mumbai University. After that, he received a master’s degree in Civil Engineering focusing on Water Resource Management, as well as and a master’s degree in Architecture focusing on water sustainability design at UNM. His Civil master’s research was focused on an innovative self-cleaning water quality sensor system (SC-FLAWLeSS) that allows for long-term, semi-continuous monitoring of water quality in fluvial systems. Khandelwal plans on completing his Interdisciplinary Engineering PhD in 2022, and after graduating plans on opening a startup that stimulates water technology innovations and focuses on transitioning research and development. Khandelwal plans to contribute to water-related innovations that can lead to revolutionary technological advances that will enable communities to better satisfy their needs.