New York's East River isn't exactly known for being clean.
But a new art installation, which provides real-time data on the cleanliness of the water, is aiming to show that it might not actually be all that bad.
The installation, created by PLAYLAB Inc., Family New York and Friends of +POOL and funded by Heineken, The Howard Hughes Corporation and the National Endowment for the Arts, is a 50 x 50-foot plus sign composed of a series of LED lights that change color based on the water quality. They glow blue when the water is safe to swim in, and pink when it's not. The direction with which the lights illuminate is based the movement of the water's current, and the speed with which the lights move is determined by the water's velocity.
The "+" design of POOL+ Light symbolizes "the positive steps we have taken to improve water quality since the Clean Water Act of 1972," according to the installation's website, and it's also "a symbol of inclusivity in that the water that surrounds us belongs to no one single group, but to everyone."
The sculpture is located off lower Manhattan's Pier 17. It's part of +POOL's grander ambition of building a public swimming pool within the East River, which has faced a series of roadblocks since the idea was initially proposed in 2010.
Friends of +Pool managing director Kara Meyer believes the timing of the installation was fortuitous, given the growing emphasis on how society interacts with the natural resources that surround us, all within the broader conversation about climate change.
"We've been working on this project for a while," Meyer told CNBC. "It's serendipitous that it arrived at this time when there's a larger dialogue about this issue. I hope it brings greater attention to water quality issues. That's always been the point since we first conceived of this."
The goal was to create something that "visualized water quality for people," all while making the data "a little more accessible," Meyer said.
"It's also our hope that people will realize it's not as bad the majority of the time as they think," she added.
+POOL partnered with scientists from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who installed the water-monitoring device on Pier 17.
They also created an algorithm that sifts through the data and ultimately determines whether or not the water is safe for swimming. In addition to testing for pathogens, the device also monitors temperature, salinity and pH levels, among other metrics.
Testing the water quality with such sustained frequency has traditionally been slow and prohibitively expensive, so it's +POOL's hope that the information it's collecting will have a wider impact. Meyer said that they're sharing data "with anyone and everyone who wants it" and that they're "experimenting with how we can understand that data in real time." All of the data is available to the public at www.water.pluspool.org.
The installation can be seen bobbing in the East River through January 3.