New sensing systems to act as early flood warning detectors
- Director of new DCU-based MESTECH research centre underlines need for advance warning of flooding events
6 April 2011
New sensing technology being developed at DCU’s Marine and Environmental Sensing Technology Hub (MESTECH) would enable early warning systems for flooding to be developed, the director of the centre has said.
Following the launch of Research Hub last week, Prof Fiona Regan said earlier warning of events like the flooding of the River Lee two years ago would be important for affected residents to take action and would allow government agencies to co-ordinate their response faster.
“It’s really important for the public to know if something is going to happen because then they can make preparations for it. For example, if you have got a catchment that you can monitor over time and you see changes in the upper catchment where flooding might happen down in the lower places as it does in the River Lee, then you can inform people and they can prepare for that. Or agencies can do more to prevent things getting as bad as they did, for example, in Cork. This is developing tools for agencies to assist in flood management,” she said.
She said the area of environmental sensing had been growing in recent years and it was now time to move away from the widespread system of spot sensing of Ireland’s freshwater and marine systems, where testing is down every few weeks or months, to one of continuous monitoring with information uploaded to the Web in real time.
“There is no requirement under the legislation to do continuous monitoring,” she pointed out.
Sensors were now in the pipeline that would warn of a possible flooding event by detecting, for example, that cloudiness or turbidity in water was increasing.
“If you get a change in dissolved oxygen, for example, something might be happening upstream. One of the technologies being developed by Edel O’Connor in relation to flooding is to be able to look at these water quality sensors and interpret what is happening with them in relation to water depth.
“If you have got rainfall for a number of days beforehand then you might be able to give two or three days’ warning. If you have got torrential rain and it happens very quickly, then you might not be able to give any more than twelve hours of warning. But typically you can inform people because a river catchment area is like a sink. You have water being held and released. There is a period of time if you have got enough sensors in there where you can tell people something is happening.”
Researcher Antoin Lawlor has an experimental monitoring system in Poolbeg Marina in Dublin currently which can accurately sense when ships are moving in the bay using chemical and physical sensors.
“By looking at the chemical parameters or physical parameters we can sense when ships are moving in and out of Dublin Bay. We can see a change in water quality parameters as they move in and out.
“The new systems being developed at MESTECH look at water quality as a whole. What you do with continuous monitoring is you look at trends and if you see a change in the trends, then you can alert somebody to a change. With that alert, you are telling them there is something wrong with the system and so that indicates a potential pollution event or a maybe a water level increase,” Prof Regan added.
MESTECH is the first research centre of its kind in Ireland, and is involved in developing a new generation of sensing systems. The centre was officially launched last Tuesday, 29 March by Yvonne Shields, the director of strategic planning and development in the Marine Institute, which has provided it with €2.4 million in funding in 2007 as a Beaufort Award under Sea-Change - the ongoing Sea Change national strategy for marine research, knowledge and innovation.
The centre is working on harnessing leading technologies for flood monitoring and management, detecting harmful bacteria in Irish waters quickly, and assessing the quality of drinking water. It is building links with Irish industry, such as IBM and Intel, to develop new technologies and knowledge in the marine and environmental technology areas and develop Ireland’s international reputation in these areas.