People now are wearing body monitors on their arms that are constantly checking on their heart rate and vital signs, even how long they're sleeping at night, and whether it's "good" sleep. Researchers are hoping to do similar studies on the world's rivers and streams.

The University of Montana's Flathead Lake Biological Station has five current and former researchers help with a massive one-year study of over 200 rivers, trying to continuously monitor the "pulse" of the streams.

Some of the sensors were taking readings every 15 minutes - 24 hours a day. The results are showing constant changes in oxygen and carbon levels and how those levels are affected by fish, insects, algae and the little microbes that are floating around.

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The analysis team, led by Duke University professor Emily Bernhardt, included the biological station's stream ecology professor Bob Hall and researchers Maite Arroita, Joanna Balszczak, Alice Cart and Lauren Koenig.

With the new data, the scientists could mare accurately track the "vital signs" of the waterways and how the health changes with land development and other disturbances near the rivers.

Detailed results point to main events affecting river health

Of course there are seasonal changes, but events such as flooding, drought or smaller events such as sudden rainstorms can make a big difference in the oxygen and carbon levels in the water. But one of the most important factors was sunlight.

The initial studies point toward more intense study of annual light exposure, along with changes in water levels. Hall said in a UM news release, "Our study provides a lens from which we can examine how changes in land use and climate can affect energy inputs to riverine food webs across many rivers through time."

The cycle of healthy plants and smaller creatures on up to fish and general stream health also points to human involvement, such as changes in streamside vegetation or flows affected by dam operations.

Alice Carter, one of the study's authors, said, "Disturbance and change are the norms. Measuring the 'pulse' of the river allows us to see how this influences the lives of organisms and how humans are changing these patterns."

Ten academic and government institutions were involved, with funding from the National Science Foundation.

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