Los Alamos National Labs with logo 2021

From Cosmos to Canyons

When commercial technology was not up to the task, Los Alamos built a complete self-healing network of storm-water monitoring stations from scratch.
October 1, 2017
Autonomous monitoring station

Autonomous monitoring stations provide key environmental data from remote locations.CREDIT: Joel Rowland/LANL

It’s important to check for contaminants in storm-water runoff discharging to major river systems.

“There simply are no commercial off‐the‐shelf components that come close to meeting our needs in terms of cost, compactness, power use, data processing, transmission flexibility, and multi‐hop mesh capability,” says the Lab’s Alexandra Saari. “So we had to design our own system.” Drawing inspiration from satellite components, the team designed and constructed more than 100 remote-sensing stations, operating in the rugged canyon country surrounding Los Alamos. Each draws power at a low enough rate that it can be accommodated by the sampler’s 12‐volt battery, trickle‐charged by a solar panel. In idle mode, the units are always listening, allowing them to communicate with one another in a smart network that can reroute signals around busy or damaged nodes as changing field conditions may require. And all that’s needed to add another station to the existing network? Simply turn it on.