Final Report: Balloon Platforms for Remote Sensing of Water Quality in Mixing Zones

EPA Contract Number: EPD06049
Title: Balloon Platforms for Remote Sensing of Water Quality in Mixing Zones
Investigators: Doneker, Robert L.
Small Business: MixZon, Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: March 1, 2006 through August 31, 2006
Project Amount: $69,993
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2006) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water and Watersheds , SBIR - Water and Wastewater , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


MixZon, Inc., hypothesized that lightweight infrared (IR) and video cameras mounted on an unmanned tethered helium balloon accessible via a wireless network can remotely sense water quality at site scales. In this Phase I project, MixZon demonstrated the technical feasibility of a ground-based network to monitor and control balloon-mounted, IP-enabled wireless IR and video cameras for measurement of the spatial distribution of surface water temperature within the mixing zone. The mixing zone is the area where the initial dilution of a point source discharge occurs. This technology has immediate application to provide geospatial data for regulatory management and simulation model development and validation. Mixing zones are an important component of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) point-source discharge permitting process within total maximum daily load (TMDL) water quality management programs.

MixZon focused on mixing zones in rivers, where vertical mixing of point-source discharges is rapid and may be exhibited downstream for long distances, resulting in full lateral mixing. MixZon integrated existing technology to demonstrate the rapid deployment of small balloon-mounted detectors to monitor mixing zones of industrial discharges. A balloon has a number of advantages over existing platforms for remote sensing of water quality. Existing platforms for remote sensing of water temperature at the site have limited availability, high costs, and long lead times to schedule deployment. The cost of a balloon platform is likely to be one-thirteenth to one-tenth the cost of the fixed-wing and helicopter alternatives, respectively. In addition, a low-cost balloon platform could be deployed on short notice by one to two people with minimal operator training and would be suitable for monitoring at fixed locations for longer time periods than is practical for current airborne sensors.

With the support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program, MixZon has developed a low cost, rapidly deployable, aerial remote sensing system for monitoring water quality in mixing zones at site scales. MixZon has demonstrated the ability of its platform to obtain water quality data at site scales in riverine mixing zones. The company’s patent-pending platform measures outfall performance and focuses on temperature as a dilution tracer. The temperature tracer also can be used as an indicator of other water quality parameters within the mixing zone such as biochemical oxygen demands, coliforms, dissolved metals, etc. MixZon has verified an easily deployable remote sensing platform that gathers continuous, real-time, site scale, geo-referenced mixing zone data for NPDES regulatory compliance, Endangered Species Act habitat assessment, and hydrodynamic mixing zone simulation model validation.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, water quality, mixing zones, pollution, water pollution, water temperature, monitoring, contaminants, wastewater discharge, groundwater, National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, NPDES, total maximum daily load, TMDL, recharge zones, remote sensing, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, RESEARCH, Monitoring/Modeling, Monitoring, Environmental Monitoring, Environmental Engineering, remote sensing, monitoring stations, TMDL, water quality, balloon platform remote sensing, point source discharge

SBIR Phase II:

Balloon Platforms for Remote Sensing of Water in Mixing Zones