Researchers develop new environmental monitoring and forecasting system

A team of ocean engineers, led by a University of Rhode Island (URI) researcher, has developed an environmental monitoring and forecasting system that provides information about conditions on Rhode Island State highways and waterways, which can be used for a wide variety of uses.

Using a variety of strategically placed monitoring devices and sensors, including some embedded in roadways at key intersections, the new Transmap system identifies road pavement and meteorological conditions throughout the state as well as marine conditions in Narragansett Bay. “Transmap was primarily developed to help transportation professionals determine when roads need plowing or salting and to aid commercial ships transporting people or cargo, but it can be used by a wide range of others, too,” said Malcolm Spaulding, professor and chairman of the URI Department of Ocean Engineering.

Other users might include officials responding to hazardous waste spills, road designers, competitive sailors, fishermen, scientists, and the general public planning trips. Not only does Transmap provide data in real-time, but it can provide a forecast of anticipated conditions well into the future using weather forecasting models. “If you’re responsible for salting the roads during the winter, it doesn’t do you much good to know what happened yesterday,” Spaulding said. “Transmap tells you what to expect tomorrow.”

The engineers developed two separate versions of Transmap: one is an internet-based system for the general public and other non-professional users, and the other is a detailed, professional software system that will be available for more sophisticated users. Both versions allow users to view current and historic data from each of the data collection points and to overlay a wide variety of maps from the state’s Geographic Information System.

“While Transmap was developed for use in Rhode Island, the system design is generic so it can also be applied anywhere in the world,” Spaulding said.

Data from each roadway sensor is sent every 20 minutes, with pavement sensors detecting the temperature of the roadbed so that trends in temperature change can be monitored. The seven marine data collection points were installed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and send data for uploading by Transmap every six minutes.

“Some of the data in Transmap has been collected for several years, but getting access to it – even for professionals – has always been a problem,” Spaulding said. “There has also never been a single system that combines both land and marine information, and that’s important. For coastal states especially, the water has a dramatic impact on weather conditions and the environment, so it makes sense to combine the land and marine databases. Besides, most transportation departments integrate all means of transportation into one department, so why not integrate the information systems in the same way?”

Transmap is expected to be available online in October.

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