Yacht-mounted sensors could acquire real-time ocean data

A new oceanographic project is seeking to put sensors on amateur yachts to form a real-time monitoring network with unprecedented range.

The data gathered will have a number of potential applications, including improved weather forecasting, marine ecosystem understanding and coastal and fisheries management.

The YachtGOOS (global ocean observing system) is already in the pilot phase, with a couple of private yachts carrying the sensor technology — including the Pogo40 Racer/cruiser Kaitek, which is currently undertaking a four-year circumnavigation expedition.

Participating boats require minor modifications to the keel, allowing water to flow through a pipe past the sensor and back out again.

UK-based Chelsea Technologies Group is manufacturing the sensors, which take surface measurements of salinity, temperature and fluorescence (a proxy for chlorophyll in toxic algal blooms).

Currently, these sorts of data are gathered by costly oceanographic cruises or special satellites — the latter requiring calibration with measurements taken at sea.

‘They are incredibly important in understanding dynamics of the ocean and we’re not trying to replace these classic measurements. What I am saying is that this project makes it possible to acquire, in an eco-friendly way, a huge amount of data that could be really useful,’ project collaborator Emilio Tesi of the Environmental Ocean Team (EOT) told The Engineer. ‘Satellites must be continuously calibrated with in-situ measurements and our project could actually help with that too.’

Scientists use mathematical models to predict things such as the dispersion of pollutants, and these models need to be continually refined by comparison with data of current, temperature and other parameters measured at sea.

‘For example, the Arcipelago Toscano, which is the biggest protected marine area in Europe, has a lot of tourist sailing boats, which could create a real network able to provide a huge number of surface data in a relatively small area,’ Tesi said.

The current ‘MINIpack CTD-F’ sensor device requires some maintenance and data calibration by the sailor, but Chelsea Technologies and the project partners are working on a newer version that is far more passive and communicates wirelessly with an Android mobile application programme.

Discussing the future scope of the initiative, John Allen of project partner MyOcean Resources said: ‘Do not forget that the sailors are among the most adventurous surfers; tools installed on their boats allow us to monitor remote areas of our oceans, often in conditions almost prohibitive.’

The YachtGOOS collaborators are EOT, MyOcean Resources (project leader), Chelsea Technologies Group, ENEA (Italian National Agency for New Technologies) and the National Oceanography Centre.