Ocean’s Health at stake

Marine robots are widely used for ocean observation, marine research, and increasingly by private companies. This sector is quickly growing thanks to the rapid evolution of marine robotics and sensing technologies, and the increasing demand of services both in numbers and variety. Nowadays, the operation of these vehicles relies on a network of research infrastructures distributed all around Europe.

Many aspects of our environment, such as the characteristics and changes of the global/regional climate, weather, ecosystems, living resources and biodiversity are strongly linked to the ocean. The ocean also plays a major role in many human activities like coastal protection, tourism and recreation, search and rescue, defence and security, shipping, aquaculture, offshore industry, and marine renewable energy. Furthermore, 40% of the human population lives within 100 km of the coast, and 16 out of 23 megacities are along the coast. The global economy depends on shipping goods. In fact, 90% of world trade is transported by sea. These selected facts highlight the major impact of the ocean on humans and why ocean information is key. For example,  the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources as a primary goal.

Better understanding of physical, biogeochemical, and biological ocean functions improves ocean and global prediction. This is tightly linked to various societal applications. The complexity of steps that lead to ocean knowledge include:

  • requirements setting process (why to observe);
  • scientific approach (how to observe);
  • adequacy of observational elements (with what to observe);
  • data flow and data integration (how to unlock the observational potential);
  • data product creation, dissemination and co-design with users (how to integrate and communicate).

While this chain is simple in outline, the steps are complex in implementation and execution. It is applicable for “observing for research” and “observing for application and monitoring” “Ocean observing value chain” UNESCO 2012).

Because the ocean observing value chain is not executed by any one entity or organization, its success relies on the coalescence of various subprocesses. Therefore, it is of critical importance that local coordination activities are established for these subprocesses. A coordinated research institute can facilitate the subprocesses to optimise their operation and thus further contribute to the ocean observing value chain.

There are a wide variety of international and European programmes which aim at overseeing ocean observing systems.

Marine Robotics : a wide variety of technologies

In the past, ocean observation relied mainly on manned expeditions using highly equipped research vessels. Their main drawbacks include risks to human lives and their significant costs. With the development of control and command, missions have been relying on robots more and more for the past few decades.

Focus on glider : an observation champion

Within the observational context, underwater gliders occupy a unique place. Developed in the 1980s and 1990s, underwater gliders were designed to be small, intelligent, mobile and affordable.

Underwater gliders have reached a mature state and are routinely operated by many institutes and agencies. They offer persistent fine resolution observations of the water properties along the coast and in the open ocean.

Typically, gliders profile from the surface to the seabed and back during a cycle that last between half an hour to six hours. They travel at speeds around 0,5 knots, even in extreme weather conditions. Deployments of 3-6 months are routine. They can even be deployed for a year with a survey track extending over thousands of miles.

Interest in gliders primarily resides in their payload. Sensors on gliders measure various variables.

Physical variables :

Chemical variables :

Gliders are robust oceanographic instruments. They have been developed to sample under sea ice and ice shelves. They recover data from other deep instruments via acoustic telemetry and send them to land while at the surface.  They also detect acoustic tags on fish and marine mammals.

Newly developed devices can reach depths of up to 6000m.

Glider data management by the scientific community has made data available to the public in real time. Ocean numerical modelling and forecast activities also benefit from gliders. Glider data improves hurricane intensity forecast models and has led to major results in ocean forecasting, weather forecasting, climatology and ocean state estimates.

GROOM II evaluates the specific role ocean gliders play in sustained observation initiatives addressing:

Ocean observation data is also useful to a wide variety of stakeholders such as fisheries, pollution agencies, search and rescue, industrials and so on. Services have already been developed and demonstrated. Yet, they are not often used. GROOM II addresses this issue and explores new applications of gliders. Lastly, the consortium takes into consideration developments in miniaturized sensor systems and artificial intelligence as well as emerging markets.