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Boat ride can tell how polluted India's major rivers are

The aim of the project, the scientists said, is to provide a holistic water quality monitoring platform and pinpoint the hotspots of pollution in major Indian water bodies

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

On a pleasant afternoon last week, scientists sailed down a section of the on a boat equipped with cutting edge sensors to map pollution hotspots and monitor quality in real time instead of relying on time-intensive and expensive lab measurements.

An hour into the ride that started from the Nigambodh Ghat here, the sensors could point to exact locations where effluents enter the river as well as map levels of acidity, dissolved oxygen and organic matter among other factors that make the river waters unfit for not just humans but also aquatic life.

The boat ride was part of the Water-to Cloud project developed by researchers at the for Development (TCD), in collaboration with corps.

A few days before the ride on the Yamuna, on which the team has been working more than a year, the researchers went down the Ganga in in to demonstrate the efficacy of the system.

The aim of the project, the scientists said, is to provide a holistic quality monitoring platform and pinpoint the hotspots of pollution in major Indian bodies, including the Ganga and and important lakes, using sensors that send to a in the form of easily readable maps.

“The project explores the benefits of continuous, real-time, and in-situ monitoring system that would act as an early warning system," Priyank Hirani, Water-to-Cloud and team lead, told

"The system uses powerful data visualisations in the form of heat maps which can be used to dynamically monitor, predict, and regulate water quality,” Hirani explained.

According to him, current methods of river water quality monitoring in rely heavily on lab measurement, which is time-intensive and expensive and is done on a per sample basis.

Moreover, lab analyses from point measurements may not always give a holistic picture of the health of as they are dynamic ecosystems and require continuous monitoring, he added.

“Our project leverages the benefit of sensor technology, which is becoming more affordable. The sensors, which have a wide range in terms of values they can record, are attached to a boat that goes on a pre-defined route,” Hirani said.

After the data is recorded real-time, it is downloaded from sensors, cleansed and uploaded to a user-friendly and open-access platform.

Under the project, 1,100 time-stamped and geo-tagged data points are available on in Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, and three lakes in Bengaluru -- Ulsoor, Nagvada and Jakkur.

Of the three rivers, the researchers said the site they monitor on is the most polluted. There has been no significant improvement in the quality of the water in the river since 2017 when they started the project.

To gather data, boats are equipped with multiple submersible automated sensors and set on sail at different times of the day based on a pre-defined route.

These sensors are chosen to measure parameters of interest based on the kind of pollution being monitored: industrial, agricultural, anthropogenic, etc.

This time-stamped and geo-tagged data is then filtered and superimposed on geospatial maps to create two-dimensional area heat maps for ease of interpretation and predictive analysis.

Detailed lab analysis is done on a regular basis to support in-situ field measurements.

Following curation of the geospatial and temporal water quality data, the project applies to predict the spread of pollution, interpolate sparse data, and identify the specific sources of pollution.

“We have been working on the since 2016. Over the past 15 months, we have been monitoring water quality of the Ganga in Varanasi,” said Supratik Guha, principal investigator, Water-to-Cloud project.

“Recently, we have started measuring the river's water quality in Kolkata. Between 2017 and 2018, we worked in Bengaluru, monitoring Ulsoor, Nagavara and Jakkur lakes,” he said.

The team, which has been working on the Yamuna in for about 18 months, has conducted over 225 experiments across 11 locations.

The researchers said while mapping the river chemistry, it emerged that the level of dissolved oxygen in two stretches of Ganga is often below the standards, and alarmingly low in the Yamuna.

When it comes to turbidity, which is a direct result of effluents from urbanised zones, large water bodies monitored in the study, do not fare well, they said.

For Yamuna, the heat map on certain days suggests that dissolved oxygen level was below 2, less than the normal levels.

The researchers noted that some stretches of witness turbidity over 100 (NTU) . Ideally, turbidity level for surface water should be within 50.

In case of Bengaluru's lakes, the level is extremely high in some sections of the lake, hovering between 400 and 450 NTU.

Guha said the continuous real-time monitoring of river water quality helps to regulate and pinpoint pollution sources and identify safe bathing ghats, besides creating hydrological models to quantify pollution load entering a river.

"That's how we can make people aware of their actions as well as the impact that they have on their lives,” he added.

The researchers said the plan is to collect more data before consolidating it into a report which will be submitted to the Board and other organisations.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, April 02 2019. 16:25 IST