A RIVER recovery project that will turn the Forth Valley into a 'living laboratory' was launched at the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

The Forth Environmental Resilience Array (Forth-ERA), directed by the University of Stirling, will use state-of-the-art technology – including sensors, satellites, and artificial intelligence – to monitor the Firth of Forth catchment in real time, collating environmental data, including information on water quality and quantity.

The data collected will be made available to communities, agencies, businesses and organisations, to help support decision making, create jobs and support the new infrastructures required for a net zero economy.

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Scotland Hydro Nation chair, Professor Andrew Tyler, of the University of Stirling, is leading the project. He said: “We are already feeling the effects of climate change through water, in flood and drought, but water offers solutions too, in resilience to extreme events, and in carbon capture and emissions reduction.

“Forth-ERA will provide a platform for green economic recovery by providing business, industry and regulators with access to live data, analytics, and dynamic monitoring capabilities, helping to inform agile decision making and an informed approach to cleaner, greener ways of working."

The 'demonstrator' phase of the project saw sensors placed at seven test sites in the River Leven catchment to establish the capabilities of real-time environmental data gathering. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency is already working with the Forth-ERA team on several uses of the technology, including the potential for systems to support monitoring and predicting bathing water quality in real time, and to establish early flood warning and monitoring.

SEPA chief executive Terry A'Hearn said: “The data being produced through Forth-ERA is offering a unique perspective into the intricate relationships between water and its use or impact on multiple scales. The additional information and collaboration the project fosters will help us to maximise environmental solutions for an increasingly volatile climate.”

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Scottish Water will use Forth-ERA’s capabilities to monitor water quality in drinking water reservoirs, while the team will also be working with NatureScot and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to explore how the technology can be used to measure the benefits of projects to restore peatlands and rivers.

A range of businesses and industry can benefit from the technology – including those seeking to address challenges posed by the transition to net zero – by modelling the impacts of interventions, for example, and going beyond environmental compliance. One of these is drinks giant Diageo, which is working with Forth-ERA to monitor temperature and conductivity changes in the water around their Cameronbridge distillery, in Leven, Fife, to inform their operations and understand their local environment.