Real time weather monitoring on land and sea

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 highways and waterways.

Using a variety of strategically placed monitoring devices and sensors -including some embedded in roadways at key intersections – the 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 snow 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.

TRANSMAP reportedly provides data in real-time and can provide a forecast of anticipated conditions well into the future using weather forecasting models.

The three 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, sophisticated software system that will be available for more professional 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,’ said Spaulding.

The roadway system consists of eight sensors installed by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) five years ago.

Additional sensors will be installed in 2002 to provide more comprehensive coverage of the state.

Data from each sensor is sent to RIDOT every 20 minutes. ‘The pavement sensors detect the temperature of the roadbed so that trends in temperature change can be monitored by RIDOT,’ explained Christopher Galagan, a scientist at Applied Science Associates.

The principal marine sensors send data to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Physical Oceanographic Real Time System (PORTS) office every six minutes. They are then automatically collected by TRANSMAP from the NOAA PORTS web site.

‘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. There has also never been a single system that combines both land and marine information, and that’s important,’ said Spaulding.

‘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?’ he concluded.