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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tansley Review: Environmental sensor networks in ecological research


Environmental sensor networks offer a powerful combination of distributed sensing capacity, real-time data visualization and analysis, and integration with adjacent networks and remote sensing data streams. These advances have become a reality as a combined result of the continuing miniaturization of electronics, the availability of large data storage and computational capacity, and the pervasive connectivity of the Internet. Environmental sensor networks have been established and large new networks are planned for monitoring multiple habitats at many different scales. Projects range in spatial scale from continental systems designed to measure global change and environmental stability to those involved with the monitoring of only a few meters of forest edge in fragmented landscapes. Temporal measurements have ranged from the evaluation of sunfleck dynamics at scales of seconds, to daily CO2 fluxes, to decadal shifts in temperatures. Above-ground sensor systems are partnered with subsurface soil measurement networks for physical and biological activity, together with aquatic and riparian sensor networks to measure groundwater fluxes and nutrient dynamics. More recently, complex sensors, such as networked digital cameras and microphones, as well as newly emerging sensors, are being integrated into sensor networks for hierarchical methods of sensing that promise a further understanding of our ecological systems by revealing previously unobservable phenomena.

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