September 2001

From University of Rhode Island

Researchers develop monitoring system for roads, waterways

KINGSTON, R.I. – September 6, 2001 – A team of ocean engineers, led by a University of Rhode Island 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 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 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, 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," said Spaulding.

The roadway system consists of eight sensors installed by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) five years ago. Two sensors are located in Providence and one each in Foster, Jamestown, Middletown, West Greenwich, Westerly, and Block Island. 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, scientist at Applied Science Associates, Inc. of Narragansett, which, along with the URI Transportation Center, provided funding to develop TRANSMAP.

The seven marine data collection points were installed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management with funds collected from the settlement claims for the North Cape oil spill. The principal marine sensors are located in waters off Providence, Fall River, Prudence Island, Quonset and Newport. Those sensors send data to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Physical Oceanographic Real Time System (PORTS) office in Virginia 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?"

The primary programmer for the system is Thomas Opishinski, president of Interactive Oceanographics in East Greenwich. He said that the system is currently being tested by RIDOT while he makes additional upgrades and improvements.

TRANSMAP is expected to be available online in October.












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