Watching water from the cloud

Lake Tinaroo North Queensland, from pizzodisevo on flickr

Keeping track of reservoirs and rivers is a well-established use of cloud feedback.  The use of communications technology to monitor water goes back a long way, and has been transformed by the Internet.

When I lived in Australia in the 80s, I visited a dammed lake in the Tablelands above Cairns. The office of the water authority that managed the lake was about 50 miles away. They kept watch on the water level of the lake with a sensor that floated on the lake and sent a simple radio pulse every few seconds. The time between pulses varied based on the height of the water. The radio signal was picked up in the office by a machine that had a pen and a moving piece of paper. The pen went down every time the signal came in, so the distance between the strokes on the paper conveyed the height of the water.  Based on these readings, the water authority would plan releases of water to farmers downstream.

Ten years later I moved to Palo Alto, California.  Palo Alto creek levelsA local creek would flood during especially rainy winters, and the city had set up a number of creek height monitors.  It was the mid- 90’s; the internet was spreading and the first browsers were in use, so the creek monitors were displayed in real time on a web page.  Residents of the city could see water levels both near their houses and upstream to tell if a flood was coming and they should put out sandbags. The same system works today, with the original display embedded with a webcam on the city’s portal.

Water management is a natural for cloud feedback, since the water is often in locations far from the people who need to manage it.  The Australia example was a simple case, with one sensor and one location where people would monitor it.  The California case shows a small set of sensors, with results published to affected neighborhoods.  There’s a new example from Ireland that takes this to a new level.

Buoy on Galway Bay IrelandGalaway Bay is a large body of water on Ireland’s west coast.  In 2008,  buoys were placed around the bay carrying sensors for water temperature, movement, and chemical qualities.  The data are collected in a cloud computing service run by IBM for the national Marine Institute, which offers public access to the data and to webcams.

The various water authorities and surrounding the bay are able to work from a common base of measurements and data, stored and analyzed in IBM’s cloud. Each authority can customize reports appropriate for their work and publish the results for others to see.  (Here’s one on wave height, for boaters and for prospective wave power generators.)  One of the big payoffs is that the agencies as well as the private sector can work from a common understanding and common data about the state of the bay.

The vision of the Galway “SmartBay” is ambitious:  sensors and computation to address “coastal conditions, pollution levels and marine life,” to “benefit tourism, fishing, aquaculture and the environment,” and to speed reactions to “pollution, flooding, fishing stock levels, green energy generation and the threats from climate change.”

February 7, 2010 · knovak · No Comments
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