Modeling to solve marine mysteries

The U.S. Coast Guard receives thousands of reports of people lost at sea each year. In many of those cases the military service uses a program created by a South Kingstown-based company to track where the person could be in hopes of rescuing him or her alive. More

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Modeling to solve marine mysteries

PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD
MODEL CITIZENS: Applied Science Associates founders Craig Swanson, left, and Malcolm Spaulding, center, with CEO and President Eoin Howlett. The environmental-modeling firm aggregates marine data, writes software and then uses it to model environmental impacts.
Posted 1/11/10

The U.S. Coast Guard receives thousands of reports of people lost at sea each year. In many of those cases the military service uses a program created by a South Kingstown-based company to track where the person could be in hopes of rescuing him or her alive.

From its humble beginnings in a one-room office with one employee, to a global company employing 90 people, Applied Science Associates (ASA) now serves a diverse clientele ranging from the world’s largest oil companies seeking to model oil spills to town councils in tiny communities exploring the feasibility of erecting a wind turbine.

Since 1979, ASA has carved out a niche of aggregating marine data from around the world, writing software and then using it to model the environmental impacts of development.

“Our job is [taking] all this data and making it understandable to a broad range of stakeholders,” said CEO and President Eoin Howlett, who joined the company in 1989.

Three University of Rhode Island professors and a graduate student started the company 10 years earlier. Led by ocean-engineering professor Malcolm Spaulding, the four saw an opportunity to apply the data-gathering and modeling techniques from academia to the private sector. The company’s first contract was with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which asked ASA to explore the environmental benefits of proposed projects that would limit the overflow of Providence’s combined sewer and stormwater system.

Craig Swanson, then a graduate student and now a senior principal, was the only employee and the ASA offices were tucked in an office building off Main Street in Wakefield.

(The other two founders, Frank White and Peter Cornillon, have since left ASA.)

Today, ASA’s original office could fit in the firm’s conference space, with room to spare.

ASA offices in South County Commons also contain a data center where ASA collects marine information from around the world. Nearby, biologists, engineers, computer programmers and others hunch over computers writing software or analyzing environmental impacts of dredging, installing an underwater cable, cleaning up an oil spill, building a port and more. About half the floor sits empty, room for future expansion, explains spokesman Lee Dooley.

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