iSGTW Feature - Testing the waters: coastal ecologists look to open source software to manage distributed sensor data

Feature - Testing the waters: coastal ecologists look to open source software to manage distributed sensor data

Groundwater monitoring stations like these provide data on the quality and level of groundwater across the coast of South Carolina, allowing researchers to track any changes as commercial and residential developments go ahead.
Image courtesy of PISCES

Environmental Science graduate student, Samuel Esswein, is keeping a watchful eye on South Carolina's changing coastline.

With assistance from his graduate advisor, Christopher Post, Esswein and a team from Clemson University, U.S., are studying the impact of commercial and residential development along South Carolina's traditionally forested coastal areas. Their work is funded by the Program of Integrated Study for Coastal Environmental Sustainability (PISCES).

A system of sensors

"Rapid coastal development has had a dramatic effect on the hydrologic and ecologic systems of South Carolina's coastal areas," Esswein says. "This has wide-ranging implications for water quality and storm management."

Using monitoring equipment on a sophisticated sensor network, PISCES researchers gather data about the quality and quantity of ground and surface water, weather conditions and other ecological factors along a 3500-acre tract.

Esswein and his team monitor environmental conditions at specific sites before, during and after development.

Data coming from sensors distributed across a tract of 3500 acres is managed quickly and reliably using NaradaBrokering software, designed to support large-scale distributed systems.
Image courtesy of PISCES

Managing data flow

To manage all this distributed sensor data, Esswein required software that could move observation data from a wide variety of sources to users who have diverse requirements for data management and processing. He chose NaradaBrokering, an open source software developed by Community Grids Lab, part of Pervasive Technology Labs at Indiana University.

"NaradaBrokering has the advantages of being a scalable, distributed system with important features for security, reliability and flexibility in terms of transport methods," says Esswein. "Using distributed messaging allows our information to pass quickly and reliably in close to real-time."

NaradaBrokering is designed to support large-scale distributed systems in a manner that is secure and resilient to failures. Because it is application independent, NaradaBrokering can support projects across any number of disciplines. It incorporates several services to mitigate network-induced problems.

Using NaradaBrokering to place constraints on the content descriptors associated with individual stream fragments, PISCES researchers can precisely specify the portions of the data stream they are interested in consuming, while also placing security and confidentiality constraints.

No questions asked

NaradaBrokering developers were pleasantly surprised when they learned of Esswein's work on the PISCES Project.

"NaradaBrokering is a fairly large piece of code and we've put a great deal of care into our supporting documentation," says NaradaBrokering project-lead Shrideep Pallickara. "We were very pleased to learn that the PISCES team was using it so successfully-and to support such an impressive project-without the need to ask us any questions along the way. It's the kind of result you always hope for when designing this type of software."

- Daphne Marie Siefert-Herron, Indiana University