Marine Sensor Funding to Help Researchers Probe Mysteries of the Blue Planet

Funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) will help researchers at Southampton University to develop new marine sensor technologies for probing the mysteries of the world’s oceans.

Four projects involving the University have received a share of £4.3m funding set aside to develop marine sensors. The cash is part of a £68m funding package for robotics and artificial intelligence projects awarded through the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).

The sensors that will result from the projects – designed to be compatible with autonomous underwater systems such as NOC’s autosub Boaty McBoatface – will be able to perform a variety of functions at sea, helping researchers to answer questions about our changing oceans.

One project  – BioCam – will develop a 3D visual mapping system to obtain detailed colour images and topographical measurements of the sea floor. Another, the snappily named Single Turnover Active Fluorometry of Enclosed Samples for Autonomous Phytoplankton Productivity (STAFES-APP) will develop an active chlorophyll fluorometer sensor for measuring how phytoplankton – marine micro-organisms that play a key role in the Earth’s carbon cycle – process carbon for food in situ.

The University is also involved in two projects for the National Oceanography Centre: one to develop miniaturised laboratories able to perform seawater chemical analysis to detect nutrients and micronutrients, and another aimed at creating a sensor capable of taking the first autonomous measurements of the seawater carbonate chemistry from the surface to full ocean depth.

Commenting on the project NERC chief executive Prof Duncan Wingham said: “These sensors will help us to better understand our oceans, helping us to manage them sustainably for the future. The projects will develop ambitious new technologies that work in hazardous and extreme environments, maintaining the UK’s world-class status in marine robotics. Other industries, such as the water, aquaculture and industrial waste, are also likely to benefit from these technologies.”