Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Marine integrated autonomous observing systems

The aim of this programme is to research the scientific and technical challenges of using new technologies to deliver a more efficient, integrated UK marine observing programme. This needs to be able to meet science and policy data requirements, now and in the future.

Budget:
£3.6 million
Duration:
2016 to 2021
Partners involved:
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), Worldwide Fund for Nature in the UK (WWF-UK)

The scope and what we're doing

The UK must fulfil statutory obligations for monitoring the state of the sea. This means we need to collect data that enable assessment of the status of marine ecosystems and effective management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Autonomous technologies could make marine observation more cost effective, while accelerating our understanding of marine ecosystem function and its response to climate change and other pressures.

This research programme is co-funded by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Worldwide Fund for Nature in the UK (WWF-UK). It will address the scientific and technical challenges of using new technologies to deliver a more efficient and integrated next generation UK marine observing programme, capable of meeting science and policy data requirements now and in the future.

The objective of this programme is to accelerate the use of autonomous measurements and combined observational-model outputs in meeting long term science needs and statutory policy requirements.

New and emerging marine technologies (autonomous platforms, miniaturised sensors, and remote or automated data collection methods) provide opportunities to transform the temporal and spatial coverage of marine observations for scientific and monitoring purposes. Over recent years, the research councils, higher education institutions and industry have invested over £100 million in smart and autonomous observing systems.

Marine autonomous vehicles are now routinely deployed to support NERC science, and are increasingly demonstrating their capability for complex multiple deployments with novel sensors, making high quality targeted observations to improve our scientific understanding of nutrient and carbon cycling within the shelf seas. These technologies offer the potential to observe the marine environment cost effectively over large areas and long periods of time.

The UK must fulfil statutory obligations for monitoring the state of the seas, for example, as demanded by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), the Convention on Biological Diversity and the OSPAR Convention (OSPAR is so named because of the original Oslo and Paris Conventions). This means we need to collect data that enable assessment of the status of marine ecosystems and the effective management of Marine Protected Areas.

Autonomous technologies could make marine observation more cost effective, while accelerating our understanding of marine ecosystem function and its response to climate change and other pressures. To achieve these benefits, more research is needed to prove how their capabilities can be used and integrated with existing techniques.

Marine ecosystem services were valued at 50 trillion US dollars in 2011. It is thought that over two thirds of the overall economic value of the ocean depends directly on healthy ocean conditions. Model studies reported in the most recent assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict damage to marine ecosystems and cascading consequences to human populations that rely on ocean productivity.

It is crucial, then, that we develop a more complete understanding of the marine ecosystem response to natural and anthropogenic variability. This will allow us to develop better management strategies for human impacts on the marine ecosystem. Understanding the oceans’ long term resilience to climate change, so that mankind can sustain and increase ecosystem benefits, is a high priority of the UK Marine Science strategy.

Integrating new technologies with existing marine observing infrastructure and data archives is a significant challenge. This programme will build on previous and planned NERC and co-funded projects (such as the Shelf Seas Biogeochemistry and Marine Ecosystem Research programmes) to further our understanding of marine ecosystem function. Bringing observations from multiple sources together with models is essential to assess how different stressors (natural or anthropogenic) can affect diverse habitats over different timescales, and what impact these have on ecosystem services.

Who to contact

Jessica Surma

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

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