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GIS system to monitor cleanliness of Europe

An EU project has come up with a system for assessing coastal water quality in Europe, but the tool’s developers say it has a wide range of uses.

Like anywhere in the world, Europe’s coastlines face potential exposure to pollution. The EU-backed project called I-MARQ is finalising a prototype GIS, which aims to deliver real-time data on coastal water quality. This information can, in turn, be used to help decision-makers take appropriate action against contamination.

The three-year project, funded by the Union’s Information Society Technologies (IST) programme, has shown that it can estimate and forecast several important factors affecting water quality. These variables include the amount of suspended sediment in water (often accompanied by waste), water temperature, land runoff that washes pollution into the sea, salinity, dissolved oxygen, nitrate levels, chlorophyll (algae) and microbial risk. The 11 partners in the project set out, in 2001, to find a better way to integrate and use coastal data from sensor networks in Europe and around the world.

For this, I-MARQ used something called ‘data fusion’. Dr Jonathan Williams, CEO of Marinetech South, one of the project’s UK partners, told IST Results that this technique allows different types of data – ranging from that picked up by buoys or hand-held instruments, to data obtained from satellite images – to be used in estimating water quality.

The team say that the ‘Information System for Marine Aquatic Resource Quality’ (I-MARQ) could be used for compliance monitoring of coastal and estuarine waters. For example, a national water quality agency, using I-MARQ’s GIS, could pick up abnormal fluctuation in dissolved oxygen levels in an estuary. From this, local management teams could assess the runoff data and, once confirming the system’s findings, the inspection team could hone in on what, or who, is responsible for it.

I-MARQ, which cost nearly €3.5 million, is made up of two main sub-systems. The first is a ‘meta-information system’, which is like an exchange centre for the data before going into the GIS system, and is fully scaleable and can be adjusted to improve water quality data as time goes by. The second is the ‘fusion engine’ which updates the GIS and information on water quality before being configured to supply a variety of end-users.