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Largest continuous region of seafloor ever visually mapped in UK waters - 18/09/19

A team from the University of Southampton has successfully obtained the largest continuous visual map of the seafloor ever obtained in UK waters during a currently ongoing expedition to the Darwin Mounds. The expedition led by co-chief scientists Blair Thornton of the University of Southampton and Veerle Huvenne of the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), deployed underwater robots to map cold-water-coral mounds at a depth of 1000m in a Marine Protected Area (MPA). 

  

(Left) BioCam fitted on the underside of the underwater robot Autosub 6000 as it is recovered from the ocean after a successful mission (Right) An image of the seafloor taken at 1000m depth showing diverse species of animals living amongst coral

The autonomous robot, Autosub6000 of the NOC, was equipped with BioCam, a newly developed deep-sea 3D imaging system developed by the University of Southampton under the Natural Environment Research Council's OCEANIDS Marine Sensor Capital program. During its first 24-hour deployment, BioCam was able to visually map the seafloor at 40 times the rate of conventional imaging systems, covering approximately 50 times the area of Wembley stadium's football pitch. The example below shows one of the 650,000 images taken during the dive, showing diverse species of deep-sea life sheltering amongst the corals. BioCam also discovered a whale carcass more than 8 metres in length on the seafloor just a few hundred metres from a coral mound.

A 3D image reconstruction generated using BioCam showing an 8m long whale carcass that is sandwiched between two large coral mounds.

Blair Thornton, Associate Professor of Marine Autonomy at the University of Southampton says, "The large area and high level of detail in the visual maps BioCam collects can help scientists recognise patterns and features on the seafloor that would otherwise go unnoticed, allowing ecologists to compare sites and document changes over time at much larger scales than previously possible." 

He continues, “It is fantastic that the system delivered results from the word go. This was only possible because of a huge team effort, with staff and students at the University of Southampton, local industries, and the MARS team at the NOC working hard together to develop BioCam and integrate it onto the Autosub 6000. Huge credit also goes to the ship’s crew for safely deploying and recovering the system in less than ideal sea states.”

Veerle Huvenne, Team Leader for Seafloor and Habitat Mapping at the National Oceanography Centre explains "typically, scientists map out large scale spatial patterns in ecology by inferring relationships between sonar maps and short transects of visual imagery (photographs or video). BioCam's ability to continuously image areas in 3D over tens to hundreds of hectares gives us the ability to directly observe patterns over entire habitats. This is a powerful new tool for scientists to better understand these fragile environments".

Hayley Hinchen, Marine Habitats Monitoring Manager at the Joint Nature Conservation Committee says, "The data BioCam collects could support marine conservation by providing vital evidence at a large scale about how effective measures like marine protected areas are at conserving our environment, especially in fragile, complex habitats that can’t be physically sampled. The evidence gathered could help us understand how damaged areas of the seafloor recover with time in protected sites like the Darwin Mounds"

More information about BioCam can be found at the following website - https://ocean.soton.ac.uk/biocam
Regular updates about the current expedition are posted on - www.projects.noc.ac.uk/class/blog

The engineers (bottom left to top right): David Stanley, Takaki Yamada, Blair Thornton, Jose Cappelletto, Adrian Bodenmann, Miquel Massot Campos (UoS) Richard Austin-Berry, Phil Bagley, Rachel Marlow, Eoin O Hobain, Owain Shepherd (MARS, NOC)

Past events

Oceanology International 2019

Dr Thornton will be talking about Robotics and AI at Oceanology International 2019 in San Diego on their panel "Celebrating 50 years of Oceanology International".

When: February 27 2019
Time: 09:45-11:45
Where: Show Floor Theater 
Cost: Free to attend  

Event overview: Join us as we commemorate the past 50 years of Oceanology International! On the final show day we will have 6 leaders from the ocean science and technology community sharing their thoughts on the most significant advancements they witnessed through each of the last five decades. Talks will range from manned exploration and the emergence of ROVs to the development of autonomous technologies and robotics that we see today. The celebration will close with a look into the next 50 years including perspectives from some leading specialists in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

 

Invited talk at Gardline Ltd. "Science Cafe"

Adrian Bodenmann will be talking about "Whole site multi-resolution photogrammetric surveys of deep-sea vents and cold seeps" at Gardline Ltd's science cafe.

When: Friday March 1 2019
Time: 09:00-17:00
Where: Gardline Limited, Great Yarmouth

There are many applications in marine science and monitoring that require high-resolution images of the seafloor to be obtained. However, the resolution of underwater observations are often at a trade-off with the extent over which they can be made, and this limits their usefulness in non-uniform seafloor environments where the distribution of features varies over spatial scales much larger than the footprint that can be observed, for example in a single image frame. This talk will describe recent efforts to address scale relevance in seafloor imaging applications by using autonomous underwater vehicles instrumented with systems that can image the seafloor from different altitudes, and build multi-hectare 3D visual reconstructions of the seafloor with resolutions with sufficiently high-resolution where needed. This allows continuous wide-area, multi-resolution 3D reconstructions of the seafloor to be generated, allowing patterns to be explored and interpreted over a large range of spatial scales that would not otherwise be possible. This approach will be described giving examples of data recently obtained in deep-sea hydrothermal vent and gas hydrate fields.