Earth, Wind & Fire: How environmental sensing can help a world in peril

Earth, Wind & Fire: How environmental sensing can help a world in peril Enviromental Monitoring

Our planet is in crisis. Whether it’s the rapid spread of wildfires and floods or toxic air and water pollution, the devastating effects of climate change and other environmental threats are everywhere. Industrial incidents in critical infrastructure pose additional dangers.

The key to mitigating all these disasters is to stop them before they get out of control and the only way to do that is with early detection and analysis.

That’s where Nokia Bell Labs’ innovative Environmental Monitoring solution comes in. Keeping a closer eye on our rainforests and our oceans with cutting-edge technology means saving lives, property and businesses, maybe even the planet. We will need this to respond to some of the most significant challenges we face in the 21st century, including countering illegal logging to gas and chemical leaks, detecting large scale wildfires, providing early tsunami warnings and battling long-term impacts such as contamination and deforestation.

By deploying dynamic, real-time sensors across the globe, our platform can monitor various environmental conditions in even the most remote locations and offer the earliest early detection with continuous AI/ML generated insights.

This can be used to protect transportation lines, communications, water supply and power and gas services. It could prove particularly crucial for utilities, for emergency services, for government agencies and for industries such as fisheries, timber and agriculture.

More importantly, it could become a big part of a larger solution to our global crisis.

An intelligent fire alarm system

Take wildfires, for example.

Each year, there are about 70,000 wildfires in the United States alone. Globally, fires burn 4 million square kilometers of land, causing $50-300 billion in damages and producing up to 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions. This is only expected to grow in the coming decade.

Now imagine if we had a global network of sensors that could warn us so we could respond more rapidly and limit this damage. Our devices serve as vital first responders that collect on-site data for edge and cloud analytics. This provides critical information over the lifecycle of a fire, including details on smoke detection, air breathability and fire movement and consistency.

We recently tested this platform at the Eglin Air Force Base that covers about 500,000 acres in Northwest Florida and in selected areas in Finland. We deployed dozens of solar-enabled sensors that proceeded to successfully collect data from a series of prescribed burns, delivering measurements of temperature, humidity, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and more. The AI/ML model showed great results in detecting fires and predicting their progress.

Protecting our oceans

We are also looking to expand this service to data collection in the oceans, in a joint collaboration with propelland, a global strategy, design and engineering company.

Oceans encompass more than 70% of our planet and serve as the source of 50% of the oxygen we require. They regulate the climate and are home to 80% of life on Earth. The deteriorating state of oceanic health is dire, and its vastness is difficult to monitor.

Our idea involves utilizing the 255,000 ships that regularly traverse our oceans and convert each ship into a data collection point. By attaching devices to these vessels, we can gather real-time information on indicators such as temperature, pH levels, dissolved oxygen, salinity and more.

We are currently in the process of developing about 50 units for a six-month pilot program in the Baltic Sea that will include the creation of physical data collection devices and a predictive data platform. The Baltic Sea is one of the most polluted in the world, and as a shallow inland sea it is particularly vulnerable to discharges of nitrogen and phosphorous that can affect the water’s oxygen levels and biodiversity.

But whether it’s a ship or a sailboat, any naval vessel can serve as a sensor. We can also use fixed platforms like buoys to monitor health in harbors and other coastal areas.

Common Sense

It’s all part of a dual-purpose technology vision in which we take existing infrastructure and enable it to be utilized for the greater good. We are already doing that with fiber optics, using communication fibers as environmental sensors that can provide an early detection system for network failure and natural disasters.

Such environmental sensor fusion and intelligent oversight can be equally adapted to the industrial sphere, offering monitoring and analytic services to various use cases. Our sensing technologies can be deployed with the flexibility to easily integrate with other technologies and solutions like drones, satellites and camera-based sensors. Low energy physical sensing, edge and cloud deployed analytics and a flexible and sophisticated robust application framework allow for more rapid creation and deployment of powerful solutions.

Our Environmental Monitoring platform is an extension of these options since it can be deployed anywhere: on the earth or in the wind, in the water or in a fire. Besides warning against floods and fires, it can also have many industrial benefits, such as in mining, agriculture, manufacturing, logging and various workforce and industrial monitoring.

In all these scenarios, we could benefit from a better sense of our world and an early warning and clear understanding of looming threats.