Wastewater – a cosmic idea of the British to monitor pollution


Untreated wastewater continues to be discharged into the environment in many countries. Unfortunately, the situation in the UK is a case in point – it is estimated that only 14% of rivers there meet environmental standards. Water quality monitoring reveals that as many as 75% of estuaries flowing directly into or near bathing waters were of such poor quality that they posed a constant and serious threat to human health. The British government wants to have the following by 2040. Stop 40% of the illegally released untreated wastewater. To do this, they came up with the involvement of artificial intelligence-based tools that will observe the Earth from space.

Wastewater and its illegal discharges

Nowadays, wastewater is usually treated before it is reintroduced into the environment, which reduces its negative impact. In the case of the UK, when heavy rains flood the Victorian sewer system, waste water is released into an overflow system connected to rivers and coasts so that it does not back up into residents’ homes. This means that wastewater is still regularly discharged into rivers and seas.

In 2020. It was announced that untreated sewage was ending up on beaches across England nearly 3,000 times. times. Water utilities, which are obliged to report cases of illegal discharge, are in fact deprived of the proper tools, and the infrastructure they manage is outdated. Hence, there is speculation that there are many sites of illegal and unrecorded wastewater discharges. The British government’s intention is to reduce this by 40% by 2040. If this is to succeed, a better system for monitoring discharges is needed.

A solution to illegal wastewater discharges – SEEDS program

A collaboration between global company CGI and academia (UNFCCC – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) has resulted in a research project called Sustainability Exploration Environmental Data Science (SEEDS). This is an initiative to help bring together relevant organizations and experts to develop innovative products and solutions that provide sustainability benefits to governments, companies and individuals. The program is supported by the UN.

As part of the SEEDS program, CGI has joined forces with the British Ordnance Survey (which is a department of the government and is responsible for mapping the UK). They conducted a preliminary study earlier this year to see if Earth observation from space could be a potential solution to water pollution problems from wastewater discharges. The research was conducted within the UNESCO North Devon Biosphere Reserve, which covers 55 mil² and is centered on the Braunton Burrows, the largest dune system in England.

Artificial Intelligence takes an active role in detecting wastewater discharges

Taking advantage of the global Earth monitoring capabilities of the SuperDove and Sentinel-2 space satellites (belonging to the Planet company and the European Space Agency program), the Ordnance Survey noted that it is difficult to distinguish settlements from satellite images, i.e. Mud and sand, from sewage outflows. So the need arose to invent a tool that could accurately “see” the event of sewage dumping into waterways. With the help of, among others. rainfall and population density data, the company developed more than 90 Artificial Intelligence models that, based on the data presented, attempted to predict when events related to rain overflows and sewage spills in British riverbeds would occur.

According to Ordnance Survey, the best of their models was able to correctly predict an event 91.5% of the time. Using available data from the U.K. Environment Agency combined with data from the CGI, Ordnance Survey, North Devon Biosphere and open source satellite data, the project applied artificial intelligence to map locations where incidents of sewage spills and water pollution occurred during a specific time period. The study made use of the GeoData360 platform developed by CGI. The project also shows what role satellites can play in climate action, including adaptation, resilience and human well-being.

Mattie Yeta, director of the Sustainability at CGI acknowledged: “The solution will benefit farmers, governments, water companies and other stakeholders by protecting our water from pollution and contamination, which is critical to both our way of life and the life of our waterways and coastlines.”

For now, only the UK is monitoring wastewater from space

Although the project is conducted exclusively in the UK, Ordnance Survey researchers would like to be able to expand the project internationally. Observation satellites orbiting in space are able to easily take pictures of any point on Earth without local ground infrastructure. “Taking a picture of London is as easy and cheap as taking a picture of a distant island country. Only satellites can scale to cover every corner of the planet, creating a truly global solution.”

Researchers are also looking forward to testing the AI models created in the previous phase of the project to see how they work in practice. “We want to see if our work can really be used to support the needs of the biosphere in identifying interventions that will help preserve and restore our precious habitats.” If successful, the project could support remote monitoring of British watercourses for signs of pollution using objective, regularly updated and scalable data.

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