Stream(ing Data) Lab: WVU Sensor Journalism Project Deploys in Monongahela River

Oct 8, 2015

West Virginia is no stranger to issues surrounding water quality. In recent years, reports on the effects of acid mine drainage and the questioned safety of fracking waste have made headlines. 

The release of the toxic chemical C8 from DuPont's plant in Washington, West Virginia found its way into the surrounding area's water systems. There was also the January 2014 spill of the coal scrubbing chemical MCHM into the Elk River by Freedom Industries, causing some 300,000 West Virginians to be without tap water for days.

While some of these stories may not make daily headlines as frequently as they use to, there's no doubt--at least for many--that questions still linger.

With that (at least partly) in mind, students and faculty from West Virginia University's Reed College of Media have launched a sensor journalism project known as Stream Lab. 

High Tech, Low Cost DIY Sensors

On Monday, six sensors recently developed at MIT's Public Lab known as the Riffle (short for Remote Independent Friendly Field-Logger Electronics) were deployed at three separate locations in the Monongahela River in Morgantown. Two sensors are located above a dam and a nearby industrial site, two others are below the industrial site and above the dam, and the final pair are situated further downstream (below both the dam and the industrial site).

Housed in Gatorade bottles and submerged in the river, the Riffles are collecting data every ten minutes on the conductivity and temperature of the water--and also creating a timestamp to uniquely identify each reading. 

Credit John Keefe

What's Next?

Working with water quality experts from West Virginia University and other partners, faculty will guide students in telling a story about what they'll learn from the project. Of course, this story will be multifold--partly about the process of citizen science merging with journalism, as well as the findings from the data, which will inevitably lead to more questions and more sources. A final, digitally immersive package will serve as the final product for the course, combining all facets of the project, from development and data collection to all other subsequent reporting.

Tracking the Data & Getting Involved

As three of the six Riffles can "text" readings in real time, those interested in the project can track the data in the chart below. The project also has its own website and Facebook Page. On Twitter, you can follow along and engage using #wvustreamlab.

A community engagement aspect will also roll out soon, with the public able to contribute information directly to those involved.

The project is also entirely open source, meaning it can be replicated and altered to fit the needs of those interested in similar experimentation. That information, along with a course outline, can be found on GitHub.

Editor's Note: Along with WNYC's John Keefe, Dave Mistich is serving as one of WVU Reed College of Media's Innovators in Residence. West Virginia Public Broadcasting is serving as a media partner for the project.