2023-005 – The Navigator: A Lagrangian smart sensing system to characterize aquatic ecosystems


The U.N. climate change 2021 report indicates that climate change drastically influences the water cycle, changes flow patterns and impacts the quality of freshwater supplies. Despite these drastic effects, there is a shortage of reliable, continuous, and consistent information on the extent and dynamics of freshwater quality and quantity at local, regional, and global scales. Most freshwater aquatic studies rely on Eulerian monitoring, where water quality and quantity are monitored using grab samples or semi-continuous sensors deployed at fixed locations in bodies of water. While Eulerian monitoring is practical, it provides a limited understanding of the role of point and distributed sources on water quality processes, limiting the scalability of results. Thus, there is a need for an alternative monitoring system that travels with the water, i.e., Lagrangian monitoring, is affordable and provides real-time data transfer capabilities to monitor rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Our Lagrangian monitoring system, The Navigator, can be used in major water systems like the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes, and water conveyance systems across the western US. The Navigator can help agencies reduce monitoring costs, increase water savings, and generate objective, data-driven policies to improve the management of water resources.

Technology Description
Researchers at the University of New Mexico’s Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering department have designed and deployed a novel technology, called The Navigator, which is an alternative Lagrangian monitoring system to combat previous limited results. The Navigator features a suite of systems – an autonomous surface vehicle (ASV) with GPS and LTE connectivity, water quality sensors, depth sonars, computer vision cameras, algorithms, cloud computing, and a dashboard to visualize real-time data. With these extensive capabilities, The Navigator provides insight into where, how, and why water quality and quantity change in time and space as it moves through the current or follows user-specified pathways. As a result, The Navigator can provide improved understanding of mass-energy balances and a predictive understanding of aquatic responses to land use changes and disturbance events along river networks. Access to real-time data information mitigates threats to human health, and helps improve ecosystem health.


  • Detection of risk to drinking, industrial, and agricultural water supplies (e.g., algae bloom, wildfire disturbances, high contaminant levels, nonpoint source pollution)
  • Offers lower cost monitoring and higher range for water quality and quantity estimates
  • Supports the evaluation of the efficiency of conveyance canals, supporting the development of cost-effective maintenance strategies
  • Helps evaluate habitat restoration projects
  • Enables spatial interpolation of existing monitoring sites or geospatial data

Potential Applications

  • Disaster Preparedness
    • Wildfire water quality impacts
    • Flood risk mapping
    • Drought impacts
    • Harmful algae bloom
  • Aquatic Ecosystem Analysis
    • Wet carbon monitoring
    • Riparian vegetation monitoring
    • Seawater intrusion assessment
  • Water Resource risk assessment
    • Industrial
    • Agricultural
    • Water utilities
    • Power plants
  • Engineering, Procurement, and Construction firms
    • Leakage Detection
    • Sediment accumulation
    • Dredging monitoring
    • Mining water quality impacts
    • Bathymetric monitoring

Contact Information

Name: Gregg Banninger

Email: GBanninger@innovations.unm.edu

Phone: 505-272-7908