Thursday, 09 January 2014 Back to News

Using AUV And Glider Technology For Monitoring And Mapping UK MPAs

MARS - Exploring Difficult To Reach Parts Of Our Marine Areas

A primary goal of MAREMAP is to investigate the feasibility of using AUV and glider technology for mapping and monitoring of the UK network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Such studies could be invaluable for statutory marine monitoring and improving data resolution of marine imaging.

An Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) doesn't require a human to operate it so doesn't require a support ship or operator. The main advantage of AUVs is that they are able to explore extremely difficult to reach areas.

New evidence obtained by this groundbreaking technology is changing what we previously thought about deep-sea ecology. There is mounting evidence, for example, that deep-sea systems may be far more heterogeneous that was previously thought. By increasing the understanding of the way marine communities interact, we are in a better position to protect endangered marine species.

The high tech pieces of equipment within the Marine Autonomous and Robotic Systems (MARS) group, based at the National Oceanography Centre, allow scientists to explore the oceans in ways that were previously thought impossible.

MARS has three Autosub AUV robotic submarines; the Autosub3, the Autosub6000 and the Autosub LR; which can survey to depths of up to 6000m. They have been deployed all over the world, in such exotic areas as Greenland and Antarctica, where they investigated the uncharted ice caverns under floating ice shelves. MARS's Autosubs also helped discover the world's deepest 'black smoker' hydrothermal vent in the deepest Caribbean marine area.

'The rainbow hues of the mineral spires and the fluorescent blues of the microbial mats covering them were like nothing I had ever seen before.' Bramley Murton

MARS aims to be able to deploy AUVs to any depths, in any of the world's oceans. It hopes to be able to use them to map and monitor a comprehensive range of marine environments of importance to science, policy and industry. MARS also hopes to be able to rapidly deploy MAR systems in response to an urgent marine event.

MARS also operates a fleet of 11 gliders, another type of AUV. Gliders don't have a conventional propeller, but rather glide up and down by pumping oil in and out of an external bladder, causing them to rise and sink as required.

SAMS (Scottish Association For Marine Science) also operate the Seaglider 'Talisker,' and recently surveyed the Rockall Trough off the northwest coast of the UK, in order to collect oceanographic transect data to depths of up to 1000 m.

The glider works by collecting hundreds of vertical profiles of temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll–afluorescence and optical backscatter. This allows easy characterization of water masses in hostile conditions to a high spatial and temporal resolution.

The data collected using AUV and glider technology by our partners makes up a valuable part of the MAREMAP knowledge pool. This vital information about the MPAs of the UK is helping to inform the efforts of marine policy makers.

If you would like to know more about the technology that is helping us to create a better picture of the marine environment, please contact us.