Charting the Irrawaddy with balloons and GPS trackers

News - 26 January 2017

From Monday 30 January, you can follow the team’s progress on the TU Delft Instagram account, via #theweekof. 


All rivers are unique, and it is only possible to predict their behaviour once the river has been successfully charted. This is exactly what the researchers are setting out to do. The combination of numerous low-tech floats (balloons with LED lights) and several high-tech homemade GPS trackers will allow the researchers to chart the river’s flow and behaviour. The information that they collect will be vital in predicting future concerns such as fairway (channel) relocation and the spread of contamination.


Numerous measurement points are required in order to chart a major river such as the Irrawaddy, and these measurement points are ideally tracked continuously. Off-the-shelf GPS beacons are expensive, or lack GSM capabilities. Rolf Hut (TU Delft / Disdro, used technology developed for the maker community to create a GPS tracker that records its position on a local SD card every minute, calls in its position every 15 minutes and transmits its location. As a result, it is also possible to relocate these trackers. The balloons are different colours, and will be released at various places in the river at established times. The research team will follow the trackers and balloons for several hundred kilometres over a course of several days. The number of balloons will also be counted manually from a bridge every 50 to 70 kilometres.

Local research

Rivers in general – and particularly the Irrawaddy – are constantly changing, which means that it is necessary to periodically repeat this charting process. Involving local representatives, students and academic colleagues from Myanmar with this experiment provides the TU Delft researchers with essential local knowledge, while ensuring that this research can be repeated in the future.
The team also plans to use the data to determine the extent to which collecting information on water quality via citizen science can serve as a monitoring system. A similar project has now been running in Myanmar for a year, an experiment that is providing important complementary information.

Collaboration with Myanmar

This measurement campaign is part of a series of water management activities conducted in Myanmar since 2013 in collaboration with TU Delft. These include research, education and valorisation. See: For example, the participation of TU Delft start-up Disdro in this measurement campaign is part of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency’s Partners for Water project entitled “Leapfrogging Delta Management in Myanmar – Showcase smart information solutions in the Ayeyawady Delta”. Disdro is one of nine start-ups that – under the umbrella of VPdelta – will test and demonstrate innovations in Myanmar as part of this Netherlands Enterprise Agency project.
For an overview of projects, check the Delft WaterViewer.
For additional information on TU Delft activities in Myanmar, please refer to the following articles: and (Dutch)

More information

The TU Delft researchers involved in this project are:
Thom Bogaard 
Martine Rutten 
and Rolf Hut

(also involved via the TU Delft start-up Disdro,

For additional information about TU Delft activities in Myanmar, please contact Marjan Kreijns (TU Delft / VPdelta,, or TU Delft Science Information Officer Roy Meijer,  +31 15 2781751
Photo credit: Karen Collet

Please, visit also the website of De Ingenieur for their article about Mynamar (only in Dutch).