We expected that at some point, someone would want to know about our sensor or want it removed (even though we received permission to mount the sensor), and that is why we provided contact information directly on the device.
We did not expect, however, that someone would want to destroy our sensor just for the heck of it.
We arrived at the stream to find most of the actual device missing. The mounting pole was still in the ground, but all that was mounted to it was a section of the sensor body, broken off from the rest of the device.
We noticed that the temperature and conductivity sensors were still attached to the pole. They join the main sensor body through a waterproof connector. This end of the connector appeared to be in good condition, telling us that someone deliberately disconnected it to take the device.
We don't think the device was removed by an authority because we imagine they would have either used the contact information to let us know or removed the whole device in one piece rather than leave most of it behind.
We're not really sure what led this person to destroy our device, but it doesn't seem like they had a good reason.
We looked around for any remnants of the sensor for a bit but didn't find anything. Even if the sensor was left close to the stream, we know that it is no longer communicating via cellular. By now, it's likely full of water thanks to the hole that was created when it was broken off its mount.
When Ian and I were first designing this sensor, we looked at the huge metal and wood structures used by the USGS and discussed how we would make something smaller, cheaper, and more accessible. As we've worked on this project, it has become increasingly clear why their sensors are the way that they are. While our sensor was not making measurements that people relied on, the experience has shown us that the barrier to in-field data collection may not be the technology.
Granted, our sensor wasn't in a particularly hidden location, but citizen science shouldn't have to be hidden. Nevertheless, I am now working on developing a new version that is much more discrete (possibly under the surface of the water) to prevent this sort of thing from happening.
Maybe we're missing something, or maybe you have some insight as to how to avoid these problems moving forward. Either way, your thoughts are appreciated.