Beacon Institute and IBM Pioneer River Observatory Network

BEACON, NY and ARMONK, NY /Marketwire/ -- In a unique collaboration, with the potential for far-reaching consequences for environmental research and policy, The Beacon Institute and IBM announced a plan to create the first technology-based monitoring and forecasting network for a major American river and estuary.

The River and Estuary Observatory Network (REON) will allow for minute-to-minute monitoring of New York's Hudson River via an integrated network of sensors, robotics, and computational technology distributed throughout the 315-mile river. Once completed, the institute and IBM anticipate that the network will be replicated on other river systems.

The first of its kind project is made possible in part by IBM's Stream Computing system, a fundamentally new computer architecture that can examine thousands of information sources to help scientists better understand what is happening in the world—as it happens.

"Imagine predicting environmental impacts the way we forecast and report the weather," said John Cronin, Director and Chief Executive Officer of The Beacon Institute. "With that technological capability, we can better understand the effects of global warming, the movements of migrating fish, or the transport of pollutants. The implications for decision-making and education are staggering."

In accordance with the collaboration, IBM will be developing an advanced sensor network that will capture data streams and conduct advanced data analysis in real time. The IBM Stream Computing system can capture data from a multitude of sensors that measure temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and pollution loading; map fish populations via acoustical data; and track particular fish species through radio tagging.

"This is an ambitious initiative that will require substantial innovations in the methods by which environmental data are collected, interpreted, and distributed," said Anthony Yu, Vice President, Semiconductor and Emerging Industries, IBM. "The development of a river observatory network is a technological frontier for science, engineering, and policy. Once achieved, it can have applications for rivers worldwide."

"Real-time monitoring technologies currently used in ocean observatories allow us to observe physical, chemical, and biological phenomena at multiple scales—from the micro to the macro—both spatially and over time. Never before has there been a way of doing science that allows us to observe multiple scales at once," said Arthur C. Sanderson, PhD, Professor of Electrical, Computer and System Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Senior Science Advisor for The Beacon Institute. "From this data, we can build scientific models to understand how changes in chemistry and biology affect the fish and the river, and by extension, the larger scale ecology."

"The Hudson River is the pilot river system for this groundbreaking initiative, and the 12 million people who live within its watershed will be the first beneficiaries of our work," said Cronin. "This collaboration between IBM and The Beacon Institute is vitally important to our plans in progress for a $40 million research laboratory at Denning's Point in Beacon, thanks to funding through New York state."

When completed, this laboratory, titled the Center for Advanced Environmental Technology and designed with IBM participation, will serve as the physical home for the expert team of engineers, scientists, policymakers, and educators from the commercial, academic, government, and not-for-profit sectors working on the River and Estuary Observatory Network.

A team of IBM engineers and scientists will work on the REON collaboration, and will have access to IBM's extensive analytical and computational resources from the IBM Watson Research Lab. IBM's Global Engineering Solutions team will execute the fundamental design elements, such as the complex sensor network and distributed computational platforms. Additional elements of the collaboration include a postdoctoral fellowship to cultivate early career talent. The Beacon Institute and IBM also plan to host an international conference in the Hudson River valley regarding rivers, estuaries, and technology and will seek out, as appropriate, opportunities to work with public school education and outreach programs for children gifted in science and engineering.

Key academic and governmental participants include Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institution, Union College, Stony Brook University, Pace Law School, Rutgers University Coastal Observation Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service, and others.

"Although the Hudson River won't flow any faster as a result of this project, the speed at which we can access, analyze, and interpret data coming from the river and its watershed will increase by many orders of magnitude with the inception of the River and Estuary Observatory Network," said W. Rockwell "Rocky" Geyer, Ph.D., Senior Scientist and Chairman of the Applied Ocean Physics & Engineering Department at Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Project Advisor for The Beacon Institute/WHOI Postdoctorate Program. "This project provides a dynamic synergy between computational technology, environmental sensing, and environmental science, providing a new way of studying, understanding, and managing a valuable natural system."

"This flagship collaboration between IBM and The Beacon Institute and its partners is a perfect example of how the business world and not-for-profit research organizations can join together to create and implement innovative technology solutions for tremendous impact both at home and in developing countries," said John C. Cavalier, retired Chairman of MapInfo Corporation and a member of The Beacon Institute's Board of Directors.

Cronin concluded, "This new way of observing, understanding and predicting how large river and estuary ecosystems work ultimately will allow us to translate that knowledge into better policy, management, and education for the Hudson River and for rivers and estuaries worldwide."

About The Beacon Institute
The Beacon Institute, headquartered in the city of Beacon in Dutchess County, NY, is a powerful nexus for interdisciplinary research, policy-making, and education regarding rivers, estuaries, and their connection with society. Its programmatic initiatives engage scientists, engineers, educators, and policy experts in collaborative work focusing on some of the most important and endangered bodies of water in the world. It also aims to make the Hudson Valley a global center for the development of replicable advanced monitoring and observation technologies for rivers and estuaries.

To learn more about the power of Stream Computing, view a webcast of Kevin Pleiter, of IBM's Financial Services Team, and Nagui Halim, IBM Research.