DCU technology could offset future flood chaos

27 Nov 2009

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A water quality monitoring system developed by a team of researchers at Dublin City University could be used in future as an early flood-warning system.

In the past week, thousands of householders in the west and south of Ireland have seen their properties damaged in the aftermath of heavy rainfall that resulted in the rivers Lee and Shannon bursting their banks and the biggest floods seen in this country in 40 years.

System to monitor water quality

The DEPLOY project, a water quality monitoring system, has been enlisted to assist those affected by the floods in Cork last weekend.

The research, which is based in DCU and jointly funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Marine Institute, was initially set up to remotely provide information on environmental parameters and it is also equipped to monitor water levels in real time.

The DEPLOY partnership is comprised of the National Centre for Sensor Research (DCU), the Tyndall National Institute, IDS Monitoring and the South West River Basin District.

While the system was not set up as a flood-warning system at the time of the incident on the River Lee, in its finished form DEPLOY could provide data about the water quality of the river catchment in real time and it has potential future applications in other areas of catchment management.

Real-time data delivery

“In response to the immediate emergency in Cork, the DEPLOY water quality monitoring system has demonstrated that it can reliably deliver real-time data on water quality and other processes in a river catchment,” said Dr Fiona Regan, project leader.

“In future scenarios, decisions which are informed by timely accurate data will always be better decisions. It is likely that these types of systems could help to mitigate against the risk of serious flood damage in the longer term, to the significant benefit of all stakeholders."

The technology behind the DEPLOY project is comprised of a network of sensor stations collecting different types of information about the River Lee, its tributaries and potentially from other areas in the catchment.

Once fully operational, data from the DEPLOY sensors can be sent instantly from remote stations to a computer system that autonomously validates the data and also checks the measured values against alarm criteria set by the system users. If alarms are triggered, alerts are transmitted by email and SMS to the appropriate people and a set of data visualisation tools are provided that facilitate expert interpretation of the river processes.

Foreseeable events

This data, and in particular the fusion of data from multiple stations, can provide users with a better understanding of something that has happened in the river and could allow them to better predict what is likely to happen and because of its real-time nature it allows them to monitor events as they unfold.

“The EPA are very happy with the water quality technology demonstrated by the partners and see a wide range of capacity building applications that will go beyond environmental monitoring. We anticipate that we will see more of this technology implemented in the near future to act as decision support tools for agencies and other stakeholders,” Regan said.

By John Kennedy

Photo: The DEPLOY project, a water quality monitoring system, has been enlisted to help people affected by the floods in Cork last weekend.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com