In recent years, a huge array of new technology has become available-both for work and at play. Whether it’s ordering a private driver-taxi using a system like Uber, or using drones to get aerial or topographic images of your facility, the world is bursting with technology that saves us time and money
Technology allows us to look at the same old issues from a much different perspective and affords us the opportunity to make better, faster decisions than we ever thought possible. For example, fax machines were invented near the start of my career, soon becoming commonplace. Today, my office doesn’t even have a fax machine, because it’s faster to scan the document and post it on a SharePoint site or e-mail it as an attachment.
One technology that has recently piqued my interest is the three-dimensional geographical information system (3D-GIS). Using 3D-GIS allows the data to be viewed from a different perspective, a much more meaningful perspective-one that offers an inside-the-landfill perspective that makes decisions easier and more informed.
Now standard GIS has been widely used in the solid waste industry to monitor truck routes, track recycling, site landfills, plot groundwater, and LFG data on maps, among numerous other uses. While articles have been written about how to use GIS in the solid waste industry for at least a decade (For example, “The Power of GIS: Applications for Monitoring Curbside Recycling Activities,” from the September/October 2004 issue of MSW Management), the availability of 3D-GIS is very new in the solid waste industry.
Historically, our industry uses MS Excel spreadsheets (analogous to the fax machine approach) to log, store, and analyze LFG well data (for example, water levels, blockages, and gas concentrations). In some cases, firms are even converting handwritten field notes in the office to electronic media for analysis and reporting.
The 3D-GIS system is a far better way to see what’s going on than this old school approach, and is even better than the decade-old GIS approach. 3D-GIS allows us to convert spreadsheet data into 3D models that give us a better understanding of what the data means and allows us to know where it’s happening.
There is so much data and information at every landfill that it’s very difficult to manage it, analyze it, and truly diagnose the issues cost effectively without using 3D-GIS. Especially when analyzing LFG, leachate, groundwater, and air issues, using 3D-GIS is a very powerful tool allowing even this old dog to make faster and better decisions.
A 3D-GIS model includes:
- vertical LFG wells (light brown is solid casing, tan is perforated casing)
- horizontal LFG collectors
- liquid levels (blue rings)
- blockages (black rings)
- Decommissioned wells (dark gray is solid casing, light gray is perforated casing)
- The topography of the landfill (the underside of a draped aerial image)
- A line reflecting the distance to the topography and liner from the top and bottom of the LFG well
- The liner (blue-green surface)
3D-GIS modeling is not the end of the line. We can now add a fourth dimension: time. Showing the LFG collection system, topography, base grades, and gas concentrations over time allows yet another tool to better understand the past and make better decisions for the future. In addition to all the dimensions, you can snap to any device (like LFG wells and horizontal LFG collectors) and pull down PDF files of its drill log, as well as pictures during construction, among a lot of other data. In short, you can have all the data at your fingertips
In situations where the issues are much larger than just one well, using a 3D model allows you to easily fly into and move around the model to see it from many different angles and distances. This helps to look over a larger area. Figure 3 shows the same data from an entirely different angle by rotating the model and changing the angle or zooming out, allowing better-and quicker-decision-makingDeveloping and managing 3D-GIS models does require an investment, but with a well-designed approach you’ll speed analysis and reduce costs overall. Not only will you have a better tool for managing your site and make better decisions, you’ll also have a faster way to diagnose operational issues.