On a cold night in winter with a frost forecast, UK highway authorities potentially spread up to 35,000 tonnes of rock salt over 3,500 salting routes in order to keep the nation’s key roads open and safe. The spreading of de-icing agents in such quantities is not only a financial burden in terms of the costs of applying the salt and the damage it causes to concrete structures, but it can also be very damaging to the environment. To help with daily decision making (i.e. to salt or not), highway engineers consult a forecast as part of a Road Weather Information System. However, until recently, there has been a paucity of high resolution observations meaning that forecasts cannot be verified / improved significantly away from dedicated outstations on the road network. On a typical night in winter, there can be as much as 10-15°C variations around the road network, which means if forecasts can be improved, then gritters can be fine-tuned to selectively salt only the coldest sections, saving considerable money.

The Internet of Things is changing this. The University of Birmingham has invented the wintersense product which is a self-contained low cost road surface temperature sensor. It uses a lithium battery (2 year lifetime) and Low Power Wireless Area Networks (LPWAN: Internet of Things) communications to produce a consumable priced solution to road surface temperature sensing. Each unit costs £hundreds as opposed to the £thousands typically spent by highway authorities on current outstation solutions. Unsurprisingly, given this large difference in price, there has been significant interest from the sector and networks are now being deployed across the UK. This studentship will look at how this new high resolution data can be better utilised in forecasting applications to maximise the economic benefits from the sector.

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