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Distributed environmental monitoring with wireless sensor networks (WSNs) is one of the most challenging research activities faced by the embedded system community in the last decade. Here, the need for pervasive, reliable and accurate monitoring systems has pushed the research towards the realization of credible deployments able to survive in harsh environments for long time. Design an effective WSN requires a good piece of engineer work, not to mention the research contribution needed to provide a credible deployment. As a matter of fact, to solve our application, we are looking for a monitoring framework scalable, adaptive with respect to topological changes in the network, power-aware in its middleware components and endowed with energy harvesting mechanisms to grant a long lifetime for the network. The paper addresses all main aspects related to the design of a WSN ranging from the -possible- need of an ad-hoc embedded system, to sensing, local and remote transmission, data storage and visualization; particular attention will be devoted to energy harvesting and management aspects at the unit and network level. Two applications, namely monitoring the marine environment and forecasting the collapse of rock faces in mountaineering areas will be the experimental leitmotiv of the presentation.