A Low-Cost, Multi-Sensor System to Monitor Temporary Stream Dynamics in Mountainous Headwater Catchments

Sensors (Basel). 2019 Oct 25;19(21):4645. doi: 10.3390/s19214645.


While temporary streams account for more than half of the global discharge, high spatiotemporal resolution data on the three main hydrological states (dry streambed, standing water, and flowing water) of temporary stream remains sparse. This study presents a low-cost, multi-sensor system to monitor the hydrological state of temporary streams in mountainous headwaters. The monitoring system consists of an Arduino microcontroller board combined with an SD-card data logger shield, and four sensors: an electrical resistance (ER) sensor, temperature sensor, float switch sensor, and flow sensor. The monitoring system was tested in a small mountainous headwater catchment, where it was installed on multiple locations in the stream network, during two field seasons (2016 and 2017). Time-lapse cameras were installed at all monitoring system locations to evaluate the sensor performance. The field tests showed that the monitoring system was power efficient (running for nine months on four AA batteries at a five-minute logging interval) and able to reliably log data (<1% failed data logs). Of the sensors, the ER sensor (99.9% correct state data and 90.9% correctly timed state changes) and flow sensor (99.9% correct state data and 90.5% correctly timed state changes) performed best (2017 performance results). A setup of the monitoring system with these sensors can provide long-term, high spatiotemporal resolution data on the hydrological state of temporary streams, which will help to improve our understanding of the hydrological functioning of these important systems.

Keywords: Arduino; DIY sensors; ephemeral streams; hydrological state; intermittent streams; low-cost sensors; monitoring; sensor evaluation; stream network; time-lapse cameras.