Weather forecasting is an inaccurate science, yet one that has crucial implications for a number of domains. It has played pivotal moments in world history and contributes to shaping the course of the future: millions of decisions are made every day based on the weather, from food and clothing choices to crop management, to flight or shipping planning. Meteorology is also instrumental in the prevention of climate change or in the control of natural disasters or adverse atmospheric phenomena such as pollution.
According to a study, climate change could directly cost the world economy $7.9 trillion by the middle of the century as increased drought, flooding and crop failures hamper economic growth and threaten infrastructure. With the prospect of severe weather fronts occurring more frequently, governments and businesses are seeking supplemental and more accurate weather data to better prepare for impending disasters. That’s where IoT comes into the picture…
Although Mother Nature remains somewhat inscrutable, the capabilities of weather forecasting technologies have been bolstered with IoT-enabled devices.
Essential components of a weather forecast service are observation, communication, analysis, prediction, and dissemination, all of which can be helped by new technologies.
Weather sensors are being used to adjust metrics at ground and atmospheric levels, making the gathering of information more accurate. Taking many different forms, sensors can be stationary or mounted on vehicles, or drones to monitor meteorological trends and live changes in precise geographical areas. Cellular systems, sail drones, weather balloons and ocean-going robots take atmospheric and ocean measurements. Instruments mounted aboard satellites monitor and record global atmospheric conditions and cloud data by collecting numerous weather parameters that affect weather patterns.
Long distance telecommunication protocols allow data to be transferred faster and from distant places to the cloud.
AI is helping making sense of the billions of datapoints gathered every day by private and public weather stations, upper-air stations, Voluntary Observing Ships (VOS), moored and drifting buoys, weather radars, specially equipped commercial aircraft and meteorological and research satellites that currently measure key parameters of the atmosphere, land and ocean surface every day. It also helps generating a prediction by applying equations to data like temperature, wind direction and humidity and puts that data in the light of historical data to predict weather patterns.
Furthermore, sensors can also be connected to various destinations that may benefit from insights into meteorological trends such as news stations, airliners, logistics companies or event companies.
Weather station on Mount Vesuvius
Global warming has played a massive role in the development of meteorological and ecological IoT devices. The impact of weather on the world shouldn’t be under estimated, with 1/3 of our global economy being weather sensitive. Global warming impacts economic growth due to damage of property and infrastructure, lost productivity, mass migration and threats to the wellbeing of humankind. The 2019 Amazon rainforest wildfire that destroyed most the Amazon canopy, affecting humans and animals at various levels, and Hurricane Sandy, which flooded much of New York in 2012, are prime examples of how extreme weather events can financially impact countries. To anticipate and better manage these catastrophic events, it is essential to have more accurate and more actionable weather forecasts. To that end we have seen a growing number of weather start-ups, supported by insurance companies, public government organizations, commercial enterprises and home owners, developing new innovative IoT and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to revolutionize weather forecasting and improve responses to natural catastrophes.
One such example is The Raspberry Boom. This low cost device is intended for personal use and is an atmospheric monitor that measures more than just the weather. It detects infrasound waves which are completely inaudible to humans. These sounds emanate from man-made and natural occurrences such as tornadoes, avalanches, meteors, nuclear explosions, sonic booms etc. Each device connects to one another on a live world map called Station View, creating a large citizen science infrasound array on a worldwide level.
Wyssen, a Swiss company based at the foot of the Alps, has designed an IoT solution to detect and prevent avalanches using various monitoring systems (radars, infrasound sensors, geophones) and artificial triggering techniques with explosive charges. Sensors provide an early warning of possible avalanche activity in a given area based on detection of infrasound emissions. Radar installations, sensors, and cameras monitor activity, including feedback from weather stations, and send the data to a central control center where it is analyzed. The towers are linked to explosive charges that can be detonated if necessary once it is confirmed no humans are in the danger area.
Photo @ wyssenavalanche.com
The Indian NIOT (National Institute of Ocean Technology) was created in 1993 to develop technologies and their applications for the management of ocean resources & the environment. The organization designed a network of connected tsunami buoys in the Indian Ocean, that acts as a vital early warning system against devastating tsunamis for coastal communities such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed approximately 228 000 people in 14 countries and left two million homeless. The network of buoys is deployed along the deep and unstable fault-line responsible for the 2004 tsunami. The system, comprised of two units - a surface buoy and Bottom Pressure Recorders (BPRs), detects the sudden increases in pressure deep under the sea that indicate the formation of a tsunami. Communication between the BPRs and the surface is established through acoustic modems and the surface buoys use satellite communications to transmit the real-time information to the shore station, that can in turn inform local inhabitants. The surface buoys also collect a variety of other relevant sea data such as currents, conductivity and temperature. The surface buoys rely on Saft’s LS primary lithium batteries for their sole source of power. Battery reliability and long life are crucial factors, especially as the buoys are installed in the deep ocean, far from the shore, making maintenance visits extremely challenging and cost prohibitive.
Similarly, the Internet of Things (IoT) has contributed to revolutionizing volcanology. GE partnered with Qwake, Libelium and the Nicaraguan Government to bring a volcano’s data online and attempt to better predict its deadly and random activity. Sensors, installed inside craters, allow experts to access information collected in real time about temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure. Calorie and gas detectors measure changes in the magma and rate of flow and seismographs measure vibrations. Geophysical and geochemical techniques help predict volcanic eruptions and avoid major disasters. The cost and difficulty to maintain instrumentation in volcanic environments is tremendous. Sensors need to be encapsulated and hermetically sealed to protect them from high temperatures (up to a thousand degrees!). They need to have low consumption and long-range capabilities with month-long batteries. Head over to GE’s Digital Volcano’s site to find out more. Not only does it tell a great story, in addition the images are just stupendous!
Another interesting community IoT project is a flood sensor network developed by AB Open in the region of Calderdale in West Yorkshire. The region has been affected by severe and consistent flooding in the last few years which led AB Open to build IoT gateways using LoRaWAN and open source software to measure rising water levels and provide early warnings of incoming flood conditions and key insights to help prevent flooding in the future. The project relies on the local community whereby people can have a sensor installed if they live by the river and become a flood watcher. Other water levels such as groundwater levels can also be monitored in such flood watch application.
Photo @ Chris Gallagher - Unsplash
These new, efficient warning systems are using a combination of IoT sensor technologies; ultrasonic level sensors, infrasound sensors, pressure transducers, radar level sensors, atmospheric pressure, calorie and gas detectors, etc. These sensors and new low powered telecommunication networks are becoming more affordable, more robust and more reliable. Combined with trustworthy, long life batteries that can withstand extreme conditions, they are enabling non-governmental organizations and private owners to contribute actively to the safety plan by installing measurement and alert systems in their homes.
As natural disasters are likely to become more frequent and more deadly, IoT technologies will help prevent natural catastrophes arriving as a bolt from the blue, thus saving lives and protecting local communities from economic disaster.
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