FUSE: Floodplain Underground SEnsors- A high-density, wireless, underground Sensor Network to quantify floodplain hydro-ecological interactions

Lead Research Organisation: NERC British Geological Survey
Department Name: Groundwater


Improved understanding of the functioning of hydrological systems and dependent ecology is essential for optimal environmental management. Floodplains in particular are important due to the ecosystem services they provide. The species composition of floodplain vegetation and their ecosystem functions (e.g. leaf CO2 uptake and transpiration) are very sensitive to the soil hydrological regime, which is highly variable both spatially and temporally. The hydrological regime also affects the temperature and nutrient regime of the root environment, leading to indirect impacts on vegetation. However, the mechanisms controlling these interdependencies are not well established. The proposed project, FUSE, aims to advance this knowledge at a variety of scales. A better understanding of these vulnerable ecosystems will allow improved environmental management, under current and future conditions. A field study is proposed in the Oxford Floodplain (OFP). This study will build upon an existing hydrological monitoring network currently in place in the Oxford Meadows Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The aims will be achieved by a sophisticated combination of environmental data and computer models. This involves state-of-the-art tools: a Wireless Underground Sensor Network (WUSN) and related monitoring of environmental variables, as well as high-resolution Earth Observation (EO, i.e. satellite) data. WSNs are a relatively recent application of technology; uptake of this technology by environmental scientists enables continuous monitoring that is both scalable and less intrusive on its surroundings. It is desirable for land-based sensor networks to have few or no above-ground components, for aesthetic and security reasons, as well as to avoid interference with land management practices. Recently, this has led to the introduction of WUSNs where all or at least the majority of the sensing and transmitting components are underground. WUSNs are rare, especially in the UK, and have not been tested long-term in a challenging environment such as the OFP. Reliability and the potential distance of data transmission depend on a number of factors, including the soil type, sensor installation depth, soil moisture content and technological factors. These will be researched extensively in the FUSE project, initially using existing data on the OFP hydrological regime, soils and vegetation height/density. The precise design of the WUSN will be determined with the aid of a geostatistical procedure. FUSE will allow researchers to reliably measure underground spatial variability at hitherto unachievable resolutions of less than a metre. The project will use a mesh of simple wireless sensor nodes previously developed at Imperial College ('Beasties'). These nodes will gather environmental data, and route these to a base-station that transmits to a remote database via GPRS. The low-cost, low-power Beasties have been used extensively in similar, but less challenging environments. The enhanced sensor technology will be entirely transferable. Theoretical tools in FUSE comprise of a simulation model (SCOPE_SUB), that can be used to describe and predict the interaction between the soil (soil moisture content, soil temperature and nutrient status), the vegetation (root water/nutrient uptake, CO2 uptake and transpiration), and the hydrometeorological regime. Furthermore we will use geospatial models to spatially interpolate between measured, modelled and EO data, thereby increasing data-density. EO data will serve to guide the continuous (in time) simulation model predictions. In that way high resolution maps of key soil and vegetation variables can be constructed. Computer Science tools, e.g. a so-called Integrated Development Environment to help environmental scientist to set up and test the WUSN, and a Web portal for quality control, sensor calibration, time series- and geospatial-analysis, parameter estimation and real-time model output, will be developed.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
NE/I006877/1 01/01/2011 23/07/2012 £30,320
NE/I006877/2 Transfer NE/I006877/1 24/07/2012 31/12/2014 £15,676
Description Floodplain Underground SEnsors (FUSE) is a multi-organisation collaborative project which has developed a wireless underground sensor network measuring properties such as soil moisture and soil temperature and installed it on an Oxfordshire floodplain. The information from this network combined with remotely sensed multispectral data, climatic, hydrological, soil and plant measurements has been used within mathematical models to better understand the interactions between hydrology and the ecology of plant communities. The wider outcomes of the project and the implications for land management are reported by the partners, in particular Reading University who led the project.

The specific role of this portion of the grant was to devise the statistical methodologies required to interpret the various sources of data. This included the development of an optimized sampling algorithm which determined where the different sensors and measurements should be located to maximize the useful information that they could collect. This algorithm was able to take account of physical, technological and budgetary constraints which restricted the number of sensors and where they could be positioned. Algorithms were also developed to interpret the multispectral data and its relationship with the plant communities and to map the underground sensed data and quantify the uncertainty of these maps.
Exploitation Route The statistical algorithms developed in this grant are applicable to studies of any spatially varying environmental properties and they have already have been used in other projects funded by NERC BGS. For instance, the optimal sampling algorithm has been used to design a survey of peat depth in the Scottish Highlands and the algorithms to analyze soil moisture variation have been applied at a site prone to landslides in East Yorksire.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Description The optimal sampling algorithm developed in this project has been used to efficiently design a survey of peat depths in the Scottish Highlands. This survey is part of a NERC BGS funded piece of work which aims to better understand the storage of carbon in the soil. The algorithms developed to analyse the variation in soil moisture have been applied to a hill slope in East Yorkshire that is prone to landslides. This is NERC BGS funded work that is exploring the interaction between rainfall and soil moisture as a potential trigger of landslides.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal
Title Yarnton water levels, chemistry and isotopes 
Description Collection of groundwater and surface water levels is ongoing through manual measurements and digital loggers. Historical data have been added to the database as well. Groundwaters and surface waters have been sampled and analysed for major and minor inorganic chemistry and also added to the database. Groundwater, soil water and plant water isotopes have been analysed for stable water isotopes and added to the database. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Database is used by owners of adjacent gravel extraction quarry to monitor impact of dewatering on floodplain meadow vegetation