By Harry Kolar, IBM Distinguished Engineer and Sensor-Based Solutions
The rough seas off the coast of Ireland, where the North Atlantic can churn waves more than 15 meters high, are home to some of the largest concentrations of wave energy in the world. This turbulent seascape has for centuries served as both a sanctuary for marine life and a source of commerce and sustenance for the people of Ireland and Europe.
Now the waters of Galway Bay are providing something new: information.
After more than 18 months of design, development and research, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) in association with IBM and the Marine Institute of Ireland last month turned on a massive data collection system that will capture and analyze – in real-time – the under water noise levels of the bay.
Initially, the system will capture and analyze the ambient noise of the ocean to establish a baseline of acoustics including natural and anthropogenic (man-made) sound sources including vessel traffic. But the ultimate goal is to capture and analyze the sounds and vibrations of hulking wave energy conversion machines that have begun bobbing along off the coast and help determine what, if any impact the sound waves from those devices could have on marine life – but especially highly sensitive dolphin, porpoise, and whale populations.
This year-long project is an offshoot of an effort launched in 2009 in Galway Bay by IBM and SEAI, called SmartBay. While much has been written about both of these projects, little has been said about the technology behind them. The “smarts,” if you will, of the SmartBay.
To pull off this latest project, IBM situated a large monitoring buoy just under 2 km from the southern shore of Galway Bay and outfitted it with two underwater sensors: a hydrophone and a particle velocity sensor. These sensors capture the underwater sound waves and transmit them wirelessly at about 15M bps via TCP/IP continuously – day and night – to a receiving system on the shore. That system has a dedicated high speed connection to an IBM data center in Dublin where a grid of four IBM System x3650 M2 servers processes the incoming data. As the information is analyzed it is stored on more than 36TB of storage between an IBM System Storage N3400 with 12 1TB drives, and IBM System Storage EXN3000 SAS/SATA Expansion system with 24 1TB drives.
IBM is in the process of developing software that will enable the existing systems to support and manage data coming in from an array of additional sensors, which will dramatically increase the scope of the test site. (The existing hydrophone can pick up acoustics from miles away.)
That’s smarter computing – applying the most strategic and efficient technology to achieve clearly defined business goals. In this case: determining the impact of wave energy machines on marine life.
But it’s also a terrific example of how IBM and partners are on the point for building the Smarter Planet. For example, the methods we’re applying in Galway Bay are piquing the interest of water stewards around the globe, many of whom are facing mounting interest from alternative energy companies looking to deploy wave energy conversion systems. It’s also attracting attention from offshore oil and gas industry leaders, who are working to monitor and minimize the environmental impact of their operations. Even companies involved in land-locked fossil fuel exploration projects are interested in the Galway Bay work.
The growing interest is a testament to an aspiration and a willingness to apply the right technologies, strategically, to achieve goals and solve problems. It’s what the Smarter Planet is all about.