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This work addresses the importance of ambient conditions in the design of a sensor system for real-time monitoring of contaminated water sites and groundwater in situ for fuel and oil spills. The sensor system is based on shear-horizontal surface acoustic wave devices with chemically sensitive polymer coatings for analyte sorption. In addition to the use of a sensor array, evaluation of response time (absorption time constant) is discussed as a tool for analyte identification. The influence of relevant ambient parameters (temperature, pH, salinity) on the sensor response is described, and resulting requirements for the design of the sensor system are discussed.