Sensor Fish will give hydropower facilities data they need to improve fish passage

By on December 10, 2014

Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have updated the design of a synthetic fish used to study the forces a juvenile salmon feels as it passes through hydropower dams, according to a release. They call the device a Sensor Fish.

The tubular device is filled with sensors that analyze stresses that young salmon experience as they pass through hydroelectric dams and other hydro facilities. It beats its predecessor by measuring more forces — like pressure, acceleration, strain and turbulence — and costing less to make, while it is also capable of passing through more hydro structures than the previous model.

“The earlier Sensor Fish design helped us understand how intense pressure changes can harm fish,” wrote Daniel Deng, a chief scientist at the PNNL, in an email to TakePart. That design was optimized for use along Washington’s Columbia River, while the new model can be used across the U.S.

“Each individual dam is unique and can have many different factors that contribute to fish survival and injuries,” said Frances White, spokesperson for the PNNL, to TakePart. “Experts need to carefully study the unique characteristics of each individual dam to fully understand which specific areas of that dam could be more dangerous for fish.”

A live juvenile fish (a) and the previous version of the Sensor Fish (b) are shown side-by-side as they’re exposed to a simulated dam turbine environment. (Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

A live juvenile fish (a) and the previous version of the Sensor Fish (b) are shown side-by-side as they’re exposed to a simulated dam turbine environment. (Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

According to KULR8.com, researchers send Sensor Fish along the same paths that actual fish take as they go through dams. By doing so, the Sensor Fish measures actual forces and obstacles fish face. Once the devices have passed through and data are collected, turbine designers and dam operators use the information collected to make fish passages safer.

Some of the tweaks they’ve made were to address issues relating to spinning turbine blades, though Gizmag reports there are still many other harmful forces that need to be fixed. These include abrupt pressure changes in turbine chambers.

Sensor Fish can record five minutes of data in their flash memory, according to FCW. They can take more than 2,000 measurements per second and withstand more than 200 times the force of gravity. The devices record temperature from -40 to 260 degrees Fahrenheit.

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