Re-making water visible

Boston LightWells Project



Restoring and maintaining groundwater levels in cities, especially Boston, is critical to the preservation of structural wood pilings, and the health of riparian and coastal ecologies. But collecting groundwater level data is a difficult, slow, manual process.  Sponsored by AutoDesk and the Boston Groundwater Trust, this installation leverages existing groundwater monitoring wells, equipping them with newly redesigned caps housing LEDs and microcontrollers with Bluetooth capability connected to pressure sensors.  See uploaded Data.


7 Streets: 10 Wells: 28 Weeks

Ten bluetooth-enabled well caps, one per block, will be in display in each street for a period of four weeks. During that time, residents and visitors will be able to see real-time groundwater level data displayed on the well caps, and interact with the data through our BostonLightWells mobile app.

Well Caps: Sidewalk Crowdsourcing

Digitally fabricated out of translucent Corian, the new well caps will house LED lights and a microcontroller that is connected to a depth sensor 30 feet below grade. The sensor will be reading and logging groundwater continuously. Every hour, it will provide a reading with a scrolling message by an LED matrix. Users will be able to use the free mobile app to get the reading and push it to an cloud storage database.  This leverages the public's mobile phones to crowd-source the real-time data, turning their devices into tools of citizen science.

Mapping and Data visualization

This crowd-sourced data will be used to generate an interactive map.  Seventeen years of historic data measured manually in over 800 monitoring wells from the Boston Groundwater Trust has been translated into time-lapse animated topographical maps and sections through the city, showing how the well network expanded over time, and the seasonal variations of groundwater levels. Critical infrastructural projects and smaller groundwater recharge stations added since 2007 appear chronologically and in relative scale, based on the volume of water stored, to visualize how groundwater levels have changed in response. As new data-crowdsourcing well caps are installed and data is uploaded by the public, a digital model is being developed to automatically update from the cloud database.