Innovative technology is at the heart of this ambitious multi-phase project to explore large, dynamic areas of ocean using hi-tech robots. This is the first time such large fleets of autonomous vehicles have explored the ocean so far offshore, focusing on big long-term science.
Pioneering Robotic Exploration
The vehicles can travel great distances and are able to monitor both the environment and marine life for weeks at a time. Clean and green, they use energy from the ocean and move quietly through the water, which improves acoustic monitoring.
Environmental data is also key to the project, including weather information from the Met Office and the Royal Navy, satellite data from Plymouth Marine Laboratory and tidal information from the National Oceanography Centre.
Phase Two of the project sees further monitoring plus the tagging and release of 100 fish which will be tracked using a new seabed and USV receiver.
“Nothing on this scale has been attempted before. The range of vehicles and instruments being deployed at the same time is unique, and they can generate vast amounts of valuable scientific data. One advantage of using robotic vehicles is that they are relatively small and quiet compared to research ships, so they are ideal for making observations of marine life. This new technology is really providing a step change in our ability to measure and monitor the ocean.” Prof. Russell Wynn, Chief Scientist
“This project is testing the capabilities of our newest vehicles, and the co-ordination of a large disparate autonomous vehicle fleet. Phase one was the first time we and our partners have put such a large, diverse range of marine autonomous vehicles in the water at the same time. Each time we do it, it’s a logistical and technical challenge. Each vehicle travels at a different speed and depth, has its own range of sensors, and requires its own pilot to keep watch on its position and activity. Co-ordinating a fleet to achieve the science objected is a challenging task, and teaches us a lot about running this sort of operation.” Dr Maaten Furlong, NOC’s Head of Marine Autonomous and Robotics Systems
Marine Autonomous Systems in Support of Marine Observations – A multi-phase project
Phase One saw a fleet of seven marine robots launched from a beach on the Isles of Scilly to travel up to 300 miles to the shelf edge and back. The unmanned surface vehicles and gliders, equipped with a wealth of sensors and technology, took measurements including chlorophyll, temperature and salinity and also monitored wildlife activity at the front.
A few weeks later in the Marine Protected Area around Plymouth, further monitoring took place along with tracking 100 tagged fish using a new seabed and USV receiver.
Working in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the NOC deployed a submarine glider and an Unmanned Surface Vehicle into the Celtic Deep area of the Celtic Sea - the two robotic vehicles worked together to investigate why this area is particularly attractive to marine predators such as dolphins and seabirds.
Phase Three is an ambitious two-week mission involving ten marine robots operating off northwest Scotland. The fleet is the largest to be simultaneously deployed in UK waters, and sees a combination of surface and submarine gliders collecting marine environmental data as a contribution to the Royal Navy’s ‘Unmanned Warrior’ as well as being made available to the marine science community via the British Oceanographic Data Centre (BODC).