Towards Understanding Underwater Weather Events in Rivers Using Autonomous Surface Vehicles

January 24th, 2023

Climate change has increased the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and winter storms. The complex interplay of floods with tides, runoff, and sediment creates additional hazards – including erosion and the undermining of urban infrastructure – consequently impacting the health of our rivers and ecosystems. Observations of these underwater phenomena are rare, because satellites and sensors mounted on aerial vehicles cannot penetrate the murky waters. Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASVs) provides a means to track and map these complex and dynamic underwater phenomena. This work highlights preliminary results of high-resolution data gathering with ASVs, equipped with a suite of sensors capable of measuring physical and chemical parameters of the river. Measurements were acquired along the lower Schuylkill River in the Philadelphia area at high-tide and low-tide conditions. The data will be leveraged to improve our understanding of changes in bathymetry due to floods; the dynamics of mixing and stagnation zones and their impact on water quality; and the dynamics of suspension and resuspension of fine sediment. The data will also provide insight into the development of adaptive sampling strategies for ASVs that can maximize the information gain for future field experiments.