Great Lakes Observing System Gathers Gigs of Data for Millions of People
Contact: Linda Joy, 301-734-1165, firstname.lastname@example.org
July 26, 2011
Turn on the kitchen faucet on a hot August afternoon, and the last thing you want is a glass full of foul-smelling, discolored water.
If you run a manufacturing plant, you’d be loath to lose business because a ship carrying the raw materials you need is grounded in shallow water.
And if you’re an angler, you expect that your state’s natural resources department has all the information it needs to manage your favorite species so it’s around for years to come.
To meet these expectations, water commissions, shipping navigation managers, and natural resource managers rely on high-speed communications technology more than ever before. Using the Internet to stream data from satellites, buoys, and other instruments, NOAA and other federal agencies now provide some information instantly. Towns, counties, and states use this data to make decisions that affect millions of people and dollars -- soon more data will be available instantly.
In the densely populated Great Lakes region, home to more than 30 million U.S. and Canadian residents, NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) and its partners are designing a new comprehensive system to integrate and stream data collected by the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS).
“Those who use Great Lakes water resources -- manufacturers, power producers, transportation providers, the commercial fishing industry, and recreational fishers and boaters among others – want easy access to the wealth of information available to resource managers and Great Lakes researchers,” explains GLERL researcher Steven Ruberg. “The technology exists to make this happen.”
For example, the same digital infrastructure that enables a smart phone app to locate an empty parking space or an open dinner table can also immediately alert a water company to changes in lake water that could alter water quality for customers. Changes in lake pH (a measure of how acidic or basic the water is), temperature, and oxygen concentrations can disrupt water treatment operations and result in discolored and bad-smelling drinking water.
GLERL has charged a team of scientists and engineers with the architectural design of a communications infrastructure to collect and stream data from many different sources to those who rely on the Great Lakes to provide food, water, energy, and transportation. GLERL works with the Great Lakes Observing System, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office, and the U.S. Geological Survey on this project. LimnoTech, a water sciences and environmental engineering consulting firm, is the contractor doing the design work.
When completed, the system will include an array of data collection instruments, a way to transmit data to a central management point, a data management and communications system, and a variety of “data products” that extract the desired data and deliver it instantly to the users in handy formats.
The system will draw data from instruments on satellites, aircraft, stationary platforms, buoys, drifters and floats, automated underwater vehicles, towed sensor arrays, and ships. Ultimately, the data products it streams will cater to the needs of the users. They may include maps generated by computer models of water and near-shore conditions, as well as streams of data on physical, chemical, and biological parameters. In addition to feeding critical information to those who use the lakes on an on-going, daily basis, the system will help guide decisions in remediation, restoration, and conservation efforts in the long term.
Researchers and potential end-users of the system have examples of how Great Lakes region residents will benefit.
The Macomb County, Mich., Health Department expressed its support in a letter last fall. “The MCHD, with financial support from Federal, State and Local partners, has established a real-time automated source water monitoring system in the Huron-Erie Corridor. Enhancements provided through the GLOS program will provide a greater degree of public health protection through modeling of flows and predictability of contaminant concentrations at public drinking water intakes,” wrote Interim Deputy Health Officer Gary White.
GLERL researcher Steve Ruberg recalls an incident that instant streaming of tailored data products might help prevent in the future. In August 2006, three of four Cleveland Water Department treatment plants took in Lake Erie water with low oxygen concentrations. This caused a cascade of problems in treating the water and resulted in discolored water and numerous customer complaints. The utility provides drinking water to 1.5 million people in northeast Ohio.
Now, real-time observations from a NOAA Coastal Observation Network buoy in Lake Erie are already going hourly to the Cleveland Water Department. The information should allow extra time to switch to alternate water processing methods if necessary due to sudden changes in lake water quality.
Ruberg also points to benefits expected for fisheries managers from a NOAA buoy to be deployed in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron. The buoy will provide data on waves, currents, temperatures, and weather conditions. It will also feed underwater images to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary visitor center in Alpena, Mich., as well as to all the other National Marine Sanctuary visitor centers around the country.
Scientists from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Thunder Bay sanctuary, and GLERL hope to better understand how changes in water temperature affect the lifecycle and reproduction of lake trout and other species.
They are planning to use real-time temperature data in deciding when to sample fish from Thunder Bay. The scientists will then be able to correlate trends during the fishes’ first year of life with data sets on spawning in order to better understand the local ecosystem, Ruberg explains. This could in turn enable fisheries managers to more accurately predict fish population trends.
GLERL expects to implement the first phase of the improved GLOS data streaming system by 2012. The Great Lakes Observing System is part of the NOAA-led Integrated Ocean Observing System.