Hudson River to Get 24/7 Scrutiny

By Spotts, Peter N | The Christian Science Monitor, September 5, 2007 | Go to article overview

Hudson River to Get 24/7 Scrutiny


Spotts, Peter N, The Christian Science Monitor


Over the centuries, New York's Hudson River has borne a nation's cargo, inspired its first unique art tradition, and absorbed the detritus of millions of people within its watershed.

Now, the 315-mile waterway is slated to undergo the most intense scientific scrutiny of any major river in the United States. Not only will the project offer fresh insights into how river systems work, it will also give researchers key data and warnings about environmental threats to the nation's mid-Atlantic coast.

The effort is perhaps the most visible sign yet that resource managers and researchers have come to recognize that the health of US coastal waters depends in large degree on the ecological vitality of the rivers that flow into them.

For the past decade, marine scientists and the federal government have worked to build a network of coastal and ocean observatories. Two weeks ago, a consortium of the nation's leading ocean research centers awarded a $97.7 million contract to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass., and two other institutes to develop and maintain the undersea hardware needed to field a network of coastal and global sensors. With the Hudson River project, dubbed the River and Estuary Observatory Network, such efforts are now set to push deep into the country's interior.

With a watershed that encompasses some 13,500 square miles and embraces 12 million people, "our river system is under constant human stress," says John Cronin, director of the nonprofit Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries in Beacon, N.Y. The project "will help solve the problems and answer the management questions that haunt an ecosystem like the Hudson."

Under the aegis of the institute, several major research institutions, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and IBM have joined forces to set up a comprehensive environmental monitoring network along the waterway. It's being designed to track changes in everything from water chemistry and the flow of sediment and pollutants downstream to monitoring the movement of fish and their larvae.

The goal is twofold. The collaboration aims to develop a deeper understanding of how human and natural activities affect a river's ecological health. The team aims to design a sensor network that can be adapted to managing rivers worldwide. And in the process, they plan to build a monitoring and forecasting system that will give state and local officials the ability to see changes in a river's condition as they happen, as well as conduct modeling exercises to help resource managers find the most ecologically responsible practices for sustaining a river's health. …

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