CLEMSON — A former assistant deputy commissioner for South Carolina’s environmental protection agency has joined the Clemson University Institute of Applied Ecology

Marvin Pontiff will oversee daily operations to deploy and maintain hundreds of sensors to be placed in the 312-mile Savannah River. The sensor network will gather water and environmental data for Clemson’s Intelligent River research project, which will provide information about conditions ranging from flow rate and temperature to pollution.

Pontiff will be the logistics manager for the Intelligent River team. He comes to the job with extensive experience on the water and in the conference room.

Previously, he was assistant deputy commissioner in the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. He has served as a U.S. Coast Guard officer and captain of the port in Charleston, and he has worked in the marine industry at Mediterranean Shipping Co., the second-largest containership operator in the world.  

“Having worked closely with the federal and state maritime regulatory agencies, coastal natural resource organizations, environmental groups and the local port officials in both Charleston and Savannah, Capt. Pontiff is an excellent fit to provide the necessary coordination with these entities during equipment deployment,” said Gene Eidson, director of Clemson’s Applied Ecology Institute and co-leader of the Savannah River-monitoring project funded by the National Science Foundation.

Pontiff will work with Paul Gayes, director of Coastal Carolina University’s Burroughs and Chapin Center for Marine and Wetland Studies in Conway. The CCU center will provide watercraft and technical staff to deploy the equipment developed by Clemson and assist in routine maintenance. 

This is the most comprehensive digital sensor network placed within a river basin in the United States. It will provide real-time information not previously available to environmental regulators and policymakers. 

“Our goal is to optimize every drop of water — protecting the environment, nourishing the economy,” Eidson said. “We believe we can do it all, but you need data to do that. You need a system.”

The system is being built from scratch, created by an interdisciplinary team of scientists, including hardware developers, software engineers, river ecologists, information technologists, visual-effects designers, forestry and natural resource experts, and economists.

The project is in part federally funded by a Major Research Instrumentation Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF Award CNS-1126344).