Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Marine sensors proof of concept

The aim of this programme is to build on recent research in novel marine technology in the UK and Japan to deliver proof of concept projects for high-risk high-reward innovative sensing technologies. This will enable better understanding and predictive capabilities of ocean processes and resources.

Budget:
£900,000
Duration:
2017 to 2021
Partners involved:
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST)

The scope and what we're doing

The oceans play a crucial role in the prosperity and future of civilisation but their biogeochemical variations remain a challenge to measure, limiting quantitative understanding and our predictive capabilities. Autonomous sensors are well placed to address this capability gap, however, while there have been considerable advances in recent years in the operational use of autonomous marine physics sensors, the operational use of autonomous biogeochemistry and biology sensors remains in its infancy.

This programme aims to build on recent research investments in novel marine technologies in the UK and Japan and deliver proof of concept projects for high-risk high-reward innovative sensing technologies.

A key outcome of this programme will be a number of innovative and disruptive approaches using technologies that will ideally be at technology readiness level four by the end of the programme. This outcome will help to bridge the biogeochemistry-biology capability gap for autonomous observation of the oceans, and will ultimately help to move away from research ship dependence by accelerating the wider use of autonomous observing technologies. In time, this will lead to improved understanding of marine ecosystems by taking the use of novel marine observing technology beyond proof of concept to proof of delivery.

Why we're doing it

Oceans provide essential natural resources such as offshore energy resources, locations for carbon sequestration capture and storage, fish, tourism, minerals, and a route for global transport of goods and resources.

Much of the ocean environment, including the deep sea, remains unexplored or poorly characterised. To understand, predict, protect and manage ocean processes and resources requires a step change in the available data from this environment.

This is particularly true for biogeochemical cycling of oxygen, carbon, nutrients and metals and the resultant microbiological response that dominates ocean productivity and influences fisheries and carbon sequestration potential.

These processes vary widely over geographic and temporal scales from the coast to remote-ocean (productive) surface, to (the sequestering) deep sea. Therefore ocean scientists and stakeholders need vast numbers of measurements to study processes leading to effective models, understanding, and effective management and exploitation of these fragile yet valuable environments.

Autonomous sensors are well placed to address this capability gap due to the immediacy of their analysis and ability for widespread year-round deployments on autonomous platforms, such as sea gliders and Argo floats, and on existing traditional infrastructure for extended time series, such as the RAPID North Atlantic observing system.

However, whilst there have been considerable advances in recent years in the operational use of autonomous marine physics sensors, the operational use of autonomous biogeochemistry and biology sensors remains in its infancy. There is therefore a critical need to develop the next generation of biogeochemistry and biology autonomous sensors, that can be deployed in numbers (for example, on the Argo float array) and deliver the step change in data density both temporally and spatially.

The development of world class marine autonomous sensors is a major strength of scientists in the UK and Japan. Whilst there have been considerable advances in recent years in the operational use of autonomous marine physics sensors, the operational use of autonomous biogeochemistry and biology sensors remains in its infancy. This capability gap limits our ability to move forward with science in a number of key areas, including:

  • the response of ocean biogeochemistry and biology in a warming and acidifying future
  • understanding impacts of biogeochemical cycles and their variability on the ocean carbon pump
  • the distribution, sources and fate of chemical elements, harmful organisms and alien species.

Recent advances in sensor technology promise to close the capability gap for some biogeochemistry and biology essential ocean variables (EOV). However, for a wide range of high priority biogeochemistry and biology EOVs there is either no, or poor, sensing capability available

Opportunities, support and resources available

Read about marine sensor experiments:

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Who to contact

Nicky Lewis

Email: nicola.lewis@nerc.ukri.org
Telephone: 01793 411739
Mobile: 07738 121187

Jessica Surma

Email: jessica.surma@nerc.ukri.org
Telephone: 01793 411600
Mobile: 07925 891431

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