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How 3D visualisation is transforming Marine Asset Management

Smart Ports

A better understanding of the estuary is driving down dredging costs for this major UK port

Key Results

Provide tools to enable improved the operational and management decision making process

Increase understanding of sediment movement to reduce dredging costs


Belfast Harbour Commissioners, operators of Belfast Harbour - a major UK port and gateway for trade in Northern Ireland, needed a way to support the distribution of Marine Asset information in a better way that enabled faster access and a better understanding of the information required to make day-to-day operational and management decisions.

Traditionally, Harbourmasters use paper charts and manual documents to evaluate the condition of their shipping channels and estuaries. While charts clearly help Marine professionals to make decisions, they lack the precise level of detail that improve decision making - for example by giving the confidence to delay or reduce frequency and costs of dredging operations. Presenting survey data in a visually interactive format also improves the communication between experienced professionals and the laypeople who need to know why costs are being incurred, but are less comfortable with maritime methods.

Our Solution

Our Hydrographic Survey visualiser tool allows the client to upload hydrographic survey data from their internal survey team and third party providers. With data provided in a variety of formats, and often exceeding the limits of tools traditionally used to modify data files (which could affect the content of the file), we created the ability to manipulate files directly in the application. Files are uploaded and transformed quickly, with visualisation of even the largest files possible in just a few minutes.

Once uploaded, the user has the ability to interact with the data using a range of analytical tools.

Line tools allow the user to interrogate a cross section of the dataset to see the differences in elevation across the selected section. Area tools allow a user to define an area of the channel, and immediately calculate both area and volume of material. Users can set the target depth of the area to calculate the volume of material that must be removed in order to achieve that depth.

Not only has this transformed the way in which our client calculates their requirements, but the visibility to undertake targeted dredging that enables more control over costs.

One of the most valuable tools developed for Belfast Harbour is the Time Series feature. Using this tool, users can link multiple data sets in a single window, and using a slide control, move the image through time to see how sediment levels change in the selected time period. As well as highlighting loss and gain in draft through colour ramps, applying the line and area tools over the Time Series tool helps our client to understand how volumes and elevation change in different areas over time.

More recently, we have introduced the ability to embed documents, images and videos within the survey data. Unstructured data, such as dive inspection reports or accompanying images can be stored according to geographic relevance, enabling faster retrieval and comparison of information.

As we continue to work with Belfast and a number of other users, many new and interesting features are being discussed, and a major update in the first half of 2022 will see new features introduced, including the ability to visualise and interrogate multi-layered seismic survey, as well, and analyse multiple areas concurrently.

UoS ForthERA Screenshot
UoS ForthERA Screenshot

Project Facts


Belfast Harbour Commissioners

United Kingdom

September 2018

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