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Improving air, water quality Helping environment, one sensor at a time

Shared from the 6/1/2020 The Denver Post eEdition By Ellen Rosen

© The New York Times Co.

NEW YORK» or those working to mitigate climate change — whether globally or hyperlocally — the coronavirus pandemic has raised existential questions. Will the environment still be considered critically important so that philanthropic and venture funding continue to be plentiful?

Several New York City nonprofit organizations, relying on cloud-based technology, are hoping to show that their efforts can, at a relatively modest cost, improve local water and air quality. The Gowanus Canal Conservancy in Brooklyn, the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance in the Bronx and the Hudson Square Business Improvement District in lower Manhattan are in different stages of piloting a cloud-based service offered by Temboo, itself a Tribeba-based technology startup that captures data from sensors to help monitor a range of metrics in environmental and manufacturing sectors.


Temboo does not manufacture the sensors; those come from National Control Devices, an electronics manufacturer based in Osceola, Mo. Instead, it provides a cloud-based platform, known as Kosmos, to capture data they generate. It is what is known as a no-code approach that allows clients to use questions and answers — not unlike TurboTax — to create a system to collect data from sensors.

While Temboo’s corporate clients have subscribed to the platform for uses like monitoring manufacturing temperatures, its employees and the chief executive, Trisala Chandaria, have become increasingly interested in how their company could have an environmental impact.

Some of its earliest customers were already doing environmental monitoring with the Kosmos platform for uses such as tracking “soil moisture levels to control irrigation systems more efficiently or setting up temperature and humidity loggers at outdoor sites,” said Chandaria, who is also a co-founder of the company. More environmental sensors appeared on the market, signaling a growing demand. “As a team,” she said, “we decided to make a focused push into what we’re calling the ‘environmental engagement’ space” to measure air, water and soil quality.

The goal is to incorporate the sensors as part of a green infrastructure, the use of plants and soil for pollution control in urban centers. It is not a new concept; the Clean Water Act recognized the practice almost 50 years ago. But even as pollution mitigation techniques have become more sophisticated in the intervening years, organic solutions, like plantings, still matter. Tree beds, for example, can still effectively “soak up stormwater that flows off the streets or the sidewalk, which is often contaminated from cars and buses,” said Andrea Parker, executive director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy. “The soil acts like a filter. It’s a very effective way of treating that contamination.”

Temboo made its first venture into working with nonprofits by attending conferences and cold-calling.

At one gathering, the staff met with representatives of the Gowanus conservancy. The group then purchased sensors to monitor six trees’ absorption of polluted rainwater before it could seep into the canal, which has been polluted since the 1800s and is a Super-fund site. The small trial, covering the trees on a single block abutting the canal, began last fall. A handful of volunteers oversee moisture levels at individual trees, while one volunteer in the neighborhood hosts the so-called gateway device, which receives the sensors’ readings and then transmits them to Temboo’s platform using Wi-Fi. The trial confirmed that “stewardship of the trees appears to improve stormwater retention,” said Amy Motzny, the conservancy’s watershed manager.

Even before the preliminary results were in, staff of the Hudson Square district learned of the technology from the Brooklyn organization at the New York City Urban Forest Task Force organized by the Nature Conservancy. The Hudson Square group, devoted to an area west of SoHo, plans to use the sensors with trees to monitor stormwater and other concerns like ambient temperature.

“We had landscape architects who hypothesized that the 250 existing trees capture 12 Olympic-sized pools of stormwater annually, could lower temperatures on the blocks where the trees are planted by up to 5 degrees and capture the carbon dioxide emissions generated by 35 round trips by plane to Los Angeles,” said Ellen Baer, president and chief executive of the Hudson Square Business Improvement District. Those estimates are just that, and Baer said installing sensors in new trees set to be planted this year would help quantify these figures.



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