Retrieving information is becoming like finding a needle in a haystack - during a hay delivery. It’s an issue for harbour authorities because bathymetry, soil analysis, siltation data is really expensive. However, there may now be an answer.

The explosion in availability of data makes it almost impossible to find what you are looking for

The explosion in availability of data makes it almost impossible to find what you are looking for

If a port doesn’t actually get a grip on the information that it’s generating from surveys, site investigations and so on, any potential benefit will just slide out of its grasp said Michael Boniface of the IT Innovation Centre, a partner of the EU Exposures project.

He added: “The explosion in availability of data makes it almost impossible to find what you are looking for.” So, unless a port actually makes an investment in expensive, professional archiving services, the information they’ve generated may simply get submerged in the incoming flow. “This is really sad because good money’s already been spent on generating it.”

Further, although the information may appear to be very focused on one particular issue, it could prove unexpectedly rewarding.

“Very often a port or other facility has very a lot of rather fragmented information, some might be a look at current velocity, some might be sediment type... But very often even small surveys generate a lot of data but actually nobody knows really how to either find it or use it,” said Mr Boniface.

Which is where a certain sophisticated fishing comes in - one element of the Exposures project has been to give users the ability to launch an effective search for information. However, even once it’s found, as Mr Boniface’s colleague Gianluca Correndo explained, cleaning up the datasets in order to be able bring them together into anything meaningful also demands a huge effort, and this is before the research actually starts.

So, the tool has been developed to automate a lot of the nit-picking processes: this allows fusing a number of data sources including third party datasets – for example one port’s shoreline was defined partly by OpenStreetMap, a free, internet service. Most importantly although it’s based on a lot of sophisticated programming this stays behind the scenes, there’s a ‘drag and drop’ ease to the user-friendly interface.

Given a certain amount of cross-referenced, good quality data, it’s then feasible to run simulations “and this is where the gold is”, added Mr Boniface. The value, he explained, is in predicting risk.

It could mean that a port or wind farm owner will understand how sedimentation transport and scour will make the bathymetry look in the future, how large weather events are likely to affect underwater assets, and also how a change, such as a new pier, could affect the water flow.

Which will make management that much cheaper.

By Stevie Knight