A sensing platform for the in situ, real-time analysis of phosphate in natural waters has been realised using a combination of microfluidics, colorimetric reagent chemistries, low-cost LED-based optical detection and wireless communications. Prior to field deployment, the platform was tested over a period of 55 days in the laboratory during which a total of 2682 autonomous measurements were performed (854 each of sample, high standard and baseline, and 40 × 3 spiked solution measurements). The platform was subsequently field-deployed in a freshwater stream at Lough Rea, Co., Galway, Ireland, to track changes in phosphate over a five day period. During this deployment, 165 autonomous measurements (55 each of sample, high standard, and baseline) were performed and transmitted via general packet radio service (GPRS) to a web interface for remote access. Increases in phosphate levels at the sampling location coincident with rainfall events (min 1.45 µM to max 10.24 µM) were detected during the deployment. The response was found to be linear up to 50 µM PO43−
, with a lower limit of detection (LOD) of 0.09 µM. Laboratory and field data suggest that despite the complexity of reagent-based analysers, they are reasonably reliable in remote operation, and offer the best opportunity to provide enhanced in situ chemical sensing capabilities. Modifications that could further improve the reliability and scalability of these platforms while simultaneously reducing the unit cost are discussed.
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