Field deployments of a self-contained subsea platform for acoustic monitoring of the environment around marine renewable energy structures

B. J. Williamson, B. E. Scott, J. J. Waggitt, C. Hall, E. Armstrong, Ph Blondel, P. S. Bell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

2 Citations (Scopus)


The drive towards sustainable energy has seen rapid development of marine renewable energy devices, and current efforts are focusing on wave and tidal stream energy. The NERC/DEFRA collaboration FLOWBEC-4D (Flow, Water column & Benthic Ecology 4D) is addressing the lack of knowledge of the environmental and ecological effects of installing and operating large arrays of wave and tidal energy devices. The FLOWBEC sonar platform combines a number of instruments to record information at a range of physical and multi-trophic levels. Data are recorded at a resolution of several measurements per second, for durations of 2 weeks to capture an entire spring-neap tidal cycle. An upward-facing multifrequency Simrad EK60 echosounder (38, 120 and 200 kHz) is synchronized with an upward-facing Imagenex 837B Delta T multibeam sonar (120° × 20° beamwidth, 260 kHz) aligned with the tidal flow. An ADV is used for local current measurements and a fluorometer is used to measure chlorophyll (as a proxy for plankton) and turbidity. The platform is self-contained with no cables or anchors, facilitating rapid deployment and recovery in high-energy sites and flexibility in allowing baseline data to be gathered. Five 2-week deployments were completed in 2012 and 2013 at wave and tidal energy sites, both in the presence and absence of renewable energy structures. These surveys were conducted at the European Marine Energy Centre, Orkney, UK. Algorithms for noise removal, target detection and target tracking have been written using a combination of LabVIEW, MATLAB and Echoview. Target morphology, behavior and frequency response are used to aid target classification, with concurrent shore-based seabird observations used to ground truth the acoustic data. Using this information, the depth preference and interactions of birds, fish schools and marine mammals with renewable energy structures can be tracked. Seabird and mammal dive profiles, predator-prey interactions and the effect of hydrodynamic processes during foraging events throughout the water column can also be analyzed. These datasets offer insights into how fish, seabirds and marine mammals successfully forage within dynamic marine habitats and also whether individuals face collision risks with tidal stream turbines. Measurements from the subsea platform are complemented by 3D hydrodynamic model data and concurrent shore-based marine X-band radar. This range of concurrent fine-scale information across physical and trophic levels will improve our understanding of how the fine-scale physical influence of currents, waves and turbulence at tidal and wave energy sites affect the behavior of marine wildlife, and how tidal and wave energy devices might alter the behavior of such wildlife. Together, the results from these deployments increase our environmental understanding of the physical and ecological effects of installing and operating marine renewable energy devices. These results can be used to guide marine spatial planning, device design, licensing and operation, as individual devices are scaled up to arrays and new sites are considered. The combination of our current technology and analytical approach can help to de-risk the licensing process by providing a higher level of certainty about the behavior of a range of mobile marine species in high energy environments. It is likely that this approach will lead to greater mechanistic understanding of how and why mobile predators use these high energy areas for foraging. If a fuller understanding and quantification can be achieved at single demonstration scales, and these are found to be similar, then the predictive power of the outcomes might lead to a wider strategic approach to monitoring and possibly lead to a reduction in the level of monitoring required at each commercial site.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2014 Oceans - St. John's, OCEANS 2014
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
ISBN (Electronic)9781479949182
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2015
Event2014 Oceans - St. John's, OCEANS 2014 - St. John's, Canada
Duration: 14 Sept 201419 Sept 2014

Publication series

Name2014 Oceans - St. John's, OCEANS 2014


Conference2014 Oceans - St. John's, OCEANS 2014
CitySt. John's


  • collision risk
  • echosounder
  • environmental monitoring
  • fish
  • marine mammals
  • Marine renewable energy
  • multibeam sonar
  • predator-prey
  • remote sensing
  • seabirds


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