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Sarah Hernandez, left, and Sandra Ekskioglu

Two researchers from the College of Engineering are exploring how using real-time data on ship movements can help government agencies make more informed decisions about transportation infrastructure to reduce costs and ultimately improve improve the country’s supply chains.

Sarah Hernandez, associate professor of civil engineering, and Sandra Eksioglu, professor of industrial engineering, were awarded $222,039 for their study by the US Army Corp of Engineers Coastal Hydraulics Laboratory at the US Army Engineering Research and Development Center.

Agencies have historically relied on surveys collected manually from shippers and carriers to support decisions about maintenance of operations and infrastructure needs of waterways and ports. Detailed information on the movement of goods and vessels is important when planning lock and dam repairs, canal dredging and other maintenance work, but the way the data is handled means that they are only available after about two years.

Hernandez and Eksioglu will use anonymized ship data collected by the U.S. Coast Guard to make predictions about river and port traffic, giving agencies more accurate information about waterway trade trends.

“This work is exciting for our team because it fills a critical gap in the type of data that may be available for strategic decision-making,” said Hernandez, the lead researcher. “Our team strives to use existing datasets in new and exciting ways to fill data gaps that prevent transportation and other government agencies from making more informed decisions.”

The Coast Guard collects mandatory Automatic Identification System data for safety and navigational purposes. Predictive use of data presents a cost-effective way to gain insight into critical freight supply chains, said co-lead researcher Eksioglu.

“This work will provide near real-time insight into how our inland and coastal waterways operate within United States freight supply chains,” she said.

More efficient waterway management will make it a more competitive option for shipping, which potentially means lower costs for food, building materials and other consumer goods, researchers say.

The research team includes Sanjeev Bhurtyal, a Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering, and Hieu Bui, Ph.D. candidate in industrial engineering.