Researchers deploy coastal radar in Galway Bay


27 Oct 2011

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Dr Mike Hartnett from NUI Galway's Ryan Institute headed up the deployment of a sophisticated coastal radar system in Galway Bay

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Researchers from the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway have just deployed a sophisticated coastal radar system in Galway Bay.

The system transmits maps of the surface currents and also provides details of the height and direction of waves from the shoreline directly to the institute.

The technology has many potential uses for research and for the local community, and this is the first time it is being used in North Atlantic European waters.

The Modelling and Informatics Group in the Ryan Institute, led by Dr Mike Hartnett, develops models to forecast marine conditions, such as tidal currents, storm surges and wave heights. The group is researching, in collaboration with IBM Smarter Cities Technology Centre, Dublin, to improve model forecasts using the radar data and meteorological data.

“We are using data from the radars to improve model forecasts in ways previously not possible," Hartnett said. "It is relatively difficult to develop an accurate marine forecast model for Galway Bay, as water movement within the bay is mainly due to wind, while the patterns of incoming tides are complicated due to the flow of water around the Aran Islands. Data from the radar is helping us to overcome some of those challenges.”

Community can benefit from radar system

The radar system will also benefit the local community. When the research is completed, all of the radar maps of surface currents, along with model forecasts will be made available freely online to the public through the Galway Bay Coastal Observing System (GalCOS). This information can then be used by sailors, fishermen and tourists. It will also be of use to local authorities and others who discharge effluent into the bay, by helping them to decide the best time to release effluent and minimise environmental consequences. The research will also benefit the search and rescue activities of the Irish Coast Guard.

There are also plans to produce high-resolution maps of Galway Bay on CD, which will be of particular benefit to sailors as reference material and will provide improved knowledge of tidal and wind-induced currents. 

“The system consists of two antennae, one located on Mutton Island in inner Galway Bay, and the other located at Spiddal," Hartnett said. "Every half hour, the radars remotely sense the surface of the bay using acoustic techniques. Wireless radio communications are used to enable the system to transmit maps of the surface currents in the bay back to NUI Galway. This is high-resolution data, providing information on surface currents every 300m. Also, the radars provide wave height and direction data at selected locations within the bay.”

Dr Lisa Amini, director, Smarter Cities Technology Centre, said the sophisticated new sensing infrastructure will produce vast amounts of data requiring continuous analysis and assimilation with other data to improve the centre’s ability to understand and forecast conditions in the bay.

“This type of predictive modelling is critical to our Smarter Cities agenda, and the findings can be widely applied to protect coastal cities and their environments," said Amini. "IBM Research and Development – Ireland is happy to apply our expertise in real-time streaming processing, statistical modelling, and robust optimisation and control, in collaboration with NUI Galway, to this challenge.”

The Higher Education Authority under Cycle IV of its Programme for Research in Third Level Institutes has funded the radar system.