Is the water in your local lake clean enough to swim in today? Currently, the only way to find out is for someone to take a water sample, bring it back to a lab, then report the analysis 24 to 48 hours later. Soon, however, water-sampling buoys anchored off of beaches could provide readings in real time.

Developed by scientists at Michigan State University and the US Geological Survey, each of the buoys contain sensors that continuously measure variables such as water temperature, clarity and bacterial content. Using an onboard cellular modem, they transmit that data to a shore-based server.

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That server processes the data, then uses an RSS feed to deliver any water-quality warnings to people such as parks officials. Those people can in turn decide if beaches should be closed until the contamination passes. Additionally, members of the public can find out about any warnings via a dedicated website.

The technology is already in use on several Lake Michigan beaches in Chicago.

"Our ultimate goal is to protect the public from getting exposed to contaminated water," says Michigan State's Prof. Phanikumar Mantha. "This problem can be particularly hard on children and seniors, who tend to be more susceptible to its dangers."

Source: Michigan State University