Port of New Orleans (Army Corps of Engineers)

Sensor data helps ports ensure efficient navigation

Sensors affixed to commercial tugboats and other vessels traveling the Mississippi River will give port operators access to real-time data on water depth, currents and visibility – factors impacting sediment buildups that can impede river navigation.

A $1.6 million grant from the Commerce Department matched by $1.4 million from Louisiana’s economic development agency and port partners will help advance the SmartPort initiative, a program that uses real-time data shared by port administrators, tenants and shippers, to streamline operations and improve safety.

To build the cloud-based shoaling forecast tool, the Water Institute of the Gulf worked closely with the Port of New Orleans, IBM and Crescent Towing to collect and validate depth data to inform port dredging operations and plans for restoring coastal wetlands. Sensors were installed on workboats in the Port of New Orleans district to detect sediment buildup that could impede navigation. When coupled with weather, river and road traffic analytics, the forecasting tool will help the region’s ports become more efficient and resilient in the face of natural disasters and economic shocks.

The new funding will help the partners scale the pilot project along the Lower Mississippi River from North Louisiana to the Gulf of Mexico, creating customized resilience dashboards for the Ports of Lake Providence, Madison, Vidalia, Baton Rouge, South Louisiana, New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines.

According to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a SmartPort & Resilience Center will also be established. It will function as a clearinghouse for data harvested by the shoaling forecasting tool, serve as a specialized emergency operation center when needed and provide a place for the exchange of port-resilience information.

“This groundbreaking data will support some of the state’s largest projects including the sediment diversions, sediment management along the lower river, flood control management and others,” Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Chip Kline told the Water Institute. “We look forward to joining this effort to bring our Mississippi River ports and our coastal program to the next level.”

The next phase of SmartPort will require contract support, and a request for proposal is planned for the near future for back-end platform developers. The completed SmartPort program is expected to go online in early 2022.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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