Sensors / Aaron Huslage on Mapping The Mangroves

Aaron Huslage worked on the effort, Mapping the Mangroves, since it launched in the spring of 2012 in partnership with Qatar Foundation International and Conservation International. Citizen involvement played a big role in the project. Huslage said the team was working with students, teachers and, hopefully in the future, some journalists. Students learned how to build solar-powered sensors, deployed them and aggregated field data to build a data map of the Qatar mangrove forests. The aim was to raise awareness around the decline of the forests, their role in the environment and the importance of conservation on the whole. As the forest trees dwindled, so did their capacity for carbon sequestration.

“They basically sequester 150% more carbon than any other plant in the world,” Huslage said. “They’re very efficient at this work.” According to Huslage, the planet has lost 50% of all the mangroves in the world in the last fifty years.

In Doha, the researchers worked on prototypes of different sensors. The first was a dual temperature sensor to put in mangrove forests. They also developed CO2 soil carbon sensors—which measures the CO2 coming out of the soil—to understand the health of living trees.

“We take all the data from these remote sensors, we aggregate it with a computer in the field, that data is transmitted back to the Internet, and we put it all to a map,” Huslage described. There a few places working with these sensors right now; there are maps for Brazil, Central America, and in the U.S., Florida, which is the only region of the States that has a mangrove population.

Now, the group expanding this work with the help of other companies: to seagrass beds, coral reefs, and other coastal communities. They’re also aiming to bring the hardware cost down and the accuracy up.

They’ll also figure out a way to allow users to plug in all kinds of new sensors—sensors to measure oxygen reduction potential (a measure of the quality of the water), soil salinity, water salinity, pH levels, CO2 and more.

“We’re trying to characterize in real-time the health of these coastal ecosystems, which has not really been done before,” said Huslage.