CSIR develops an innovative SMS coastal early - warning system
The CSIR has developed a notification system that combines near real-time data sets on climate, weather and ocean currents and waves to create detailed nine-hour forecasts.
The system, which uses SMS messages to distribute the information, is being used by fishermen on small fishing vessels in False Bay, Cape Town. It provides accurate information relating to current strength and direction, wave height, direction and frequency, as well as wind speed and direction.
The system was developed to inform small-scale commercial fishing vessels of impending rough sea conditions, but because it provides accurate data on the strength and direction of surface and ocean currents, fishermen have started using the service to better plan their fishing. False Bay was chosen as a pilot site for the system because it has a thriving commercial fishing community and because the complex topography around the periphery of the Bay makes it difficult to predict weather conditions at sea.
The model generates the forecasts by using existing large-scale data sets and forecasts, and local CSIR data and models to produce very specific local forecasts of wind and sea conditions.
Before commencing with the pilot study, the CSIR met with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and local fishermen from False Bay to brief them on how the system intended to work and what it would attempt to accomplish. The feedback from these sessions was used to improve the design of the system.
To use the system, fishermen simply send an SMS code to a specific number and they instantly receive an SMS reply with the latest forecast for the next nine hours. The CSIR is compiling feedback from fishermen to determine how accurate the predictions are, to identify any patterns of over- or under-prediction and to further improve the usefulness of the generated data. A business plan is also being developed, in partnership with Wavescape Media, a South African company that provides surf forecasts, to make this service sustainable and to roll it out for the rest of the South African coastline.
Dr Björn Backeberg