New scientific understanding is catalyzed by novel technologies that enhance measurement precision, resolution or type, and that provide new tools to test and develop theory. Over the last 50 years, technology has transformed the hydrologic sciences by enabling direct measurements of watershed fluxes (evapotranspiration, streamflow) at time scales and spatial extents aligned with variation in physical drivers. High frequency water quality measurements, increasingly obtained by in situ water quality sensors, are extending that transformation. Widely available sensors for some physical (temperature) and chemical (conductivity, dissolved oxygen) attributes have become integral to aquatic science, and emerging sensors for nutrients, dissolved CO2, turbidity, algal pigments, and dissolved organic matter are now enabling observations of watersheds and streams at time scales commensurate with their fundamental hydrological, energetic, elemental, and biological drivers. Here we synthesize insights from emerging technologies across a suite of applications, and envision future advances, enabled by sensors, in our ability to understand, predict, and restore watershed and stream systems.
- Water quality High resolution data