FASTNEt - Fluxes Across the Sloping Topography of the North East Atlantic (PML Sections)

Lead Research Organisation: Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Department Name: Remote Sensing Group


Shallow seas, the Shelf Seas, surround almost all of the Earth's land masses. On average shelf seas are hundreds of meters deep, compared to the average depth of the ocean of nearly four kilometres. Shelf Seas may be as narrow as a few kilometres, or as wide as hundreds of kilometres and together they occupy only a tenth of the watery part of the world. Yet they exert an effect on humanity far out of proportion to their mere size. Shelf Seas around the UK and western Europe are particularly wide (10s to 100s km) and shallow (around 150m); they are beset by strong tides, westerly winds, and fed by the warm waters of the NE Atlantic. From the smallest plant life, phyto-plankton, to the fish, UK Shelf Seas are highly biologically productive: nine tenths of the world's commercial fish catches come from shelf seas. This high productivity is fuelled to the greatest extent by the movement of nutrient-rich ocean waters onto the Shelf Seas. However, the step seabed slope (the Shelf Edge), which marks a narrow zone separating ocean from shelf, acts to reduce the movement of water from ocean to shelf (and visa versa); major ocean currents do not like to cross a sloping seabed. This restriction to exchange, however, breaks down when oceanic flows feel the wind or the seabed, or vary more rapidly than daily or over distances shorter that a few tens of kilometres.
The shelf edge is therefore seen as the controlling gateway to exchange between ocean and shelf, and the gatekeepers of that exchange are flows which change quickly, or lie at the very surface or at the very bottom of the sea. This makes the gatekeepers of exchange difficult to measure, and as a result we know very little about how the gatekeeper processes change from one season to another and from one year to another.
FASTNEt will bring together the strongest possible UK team of Physical Oceanographers to tackle this challenge using state-of-the art observational technologies, and a range of predictive modelling approaches.
Two research ship expeditions will study the details of the gatekeeper processes, aided by satellite tracked drifting buoy, fluorescent dyes, and unmanned mini-submarines. Instruments will be left in place over winter to record changes brought by winter storms, and a fleet of unmanned submarines will visit these instruments in conditions no ship could operate in, and is so doing fill a huge gap in our understanding.
We will take the information gathered from the submarines, drifters, satellite pictures and ships and test our understanding of the gatekeeper processes, improve models designed to simulate these processes. We will then work with the National Centre for Ocean Forecasting to help improve our ability to provide forecasts of the conditions of the seas surrounding the United Kingdom.

Planned Impact

To extend the reach of FASTNEt beyond the international physical oceanography academic community we propose focused activities throughout the project. We have identified three main groups of beneficiaries

Technical end-users: There are clear opportunities for FASTNEt to inform and benefit by linking with the international ocean glider community and the UK National Centre for Ocean Forecasting (NCOF). The glider community operates at the forefront of observational oceanography and the operational glider experience within FASTNEt will inform the technology development and capabilities of future glider missions. This will undoubtedly improve operational modeling which requires in situ data for effective forecasting of the oceans. Our partnership with NCOF will facilitate more accurate forecasting leading to direct impact to NCOF customers which include government departments and business. Through our planned, regular interactions with NCOF, the scientific deliverables of FASTNEt will influence the quality of ocean forecasting required by, for example, the Environment Agency, DEFRA, Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Ministry of Defense.

Policy end users: There is clear relevance of FASTNEt for agencies charged with monitoring and maintaining healthy and productive seas around the UK. We have formed alliances with CEFAS, Marine Scotland, Marine Institute Ireland and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) to develop the pathways to policy that clearly exist through the enhancement of both observational and modeling capabilities. Other end users to benefit from association with FASTNEt, include the UK Marine Management and Assessment System (Co-I. Huthnance is a member), UK Climate Impact Programme (UKCIP; Co-I Holt has provided modelling support) and the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership. UKCIP's climate projections published in 2009 included marine projections for UK seas for the first time, and FASTNEt's evaluation of climate factors and other ocean influences will facilitate analysis of a broader range of scenarios and hence estimation of possible outcomes for UK shelf seas. We have also forged a link with a multi-stakeholder initiative, 'Partnerships Involving Stakeholders in the Celtic Sea Ecosystem' (PISCES), to bring the scientific advances to wider groupings.

A clear, practical impact is the requirement of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive for the effective monitoring of UK seas. The technologies, both in situ and remote sensing, that FASTNEt will be employing will demonstrate the cutting edge of remote monitoring to these agencies. It is here that the interaction is two-way; FASTNEt is using the logistics of agency-related sustained observations, notably elements of the Western Shelf Observatory (AFBI, Marine Institute Ireland, CEFAS) and the Marine Scotland (Science) sections across the Faroe-Shetland Channel.

Public: Ocean science is inherently engaging and exciting to the public, through the excellence of the visual and written media in portraying the marine environment. We aim to capitalise on this to engage the public in the science of oceanography and the technology being developed to observe the seas. We have established partnership with the Science Museum (through links at NOC) and the newly opened Scottish Ocean Explorer Centre in Oban. Exhibits there will bring to life the challenges and breakthroughs during the project. We also aim to draw schools into the project with a unique oceanographic 'race' using the ocean drifter experiments within the project. We will follow these up with a series of animations of the physical process that are being studied within FASTNEt to facilitate a greater understanding of the complexities and fascinations of ocean science.
Description The mean structure of the geostrophic flow, seasonality, interannual variability and long-term trend of the NW European slope current were appraised with an unprecedented continuous 20-year satellite altimeter dataset.

Recent algorithms for analysing ocean fronts using satellite data were applied to consider the physical processes at the shelf-edge: front development and decay; biophysical fronts; stratification timing.

Front detection algorithms were also applied to the new high-res 3D ocean models, and used as a novel and effective method of validating the simulated location and timing of physical features.
Exploitation Route The improved description of the European slope current from satellite altimetry would have many applications in physical and biological oceanography.

The improved satellite tools for analysing ocean fronts from satellite can be applied to improve understanding of physical oceanographic processes; relating to the distribution and foraging behaviour of marine animals; and for the validation and improvement of 3D hydrodynamic ocean models.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Environment

Description Application of 'ocean stratification estimation using ocean fronts' technique to Interreg S-3 EUROHAB project 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department Ocean and Earth Science
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution During FASTNEt I developed a novel application of remote sensing: revealing the timing of ocean stratification using remotely sensed ocean fronts. I have applied this technique in collaboration with Anouska Patton, University of Southampton, to estimate stratification in the English Channel as one of the drivers of growth of certain harmful algal bloom (HAB) species. This is a task within the Interreg Channel project: S-3 EUROHAB (Sentinel-3 satellite products for detecting Eutrophication and Harmful Algal Bloom events in the French-English Channel).
Collaborator Contribution Our partner is relating the stratification map to the presence of HAB species using statistical modelling, to identify the most important factors involved in the development of harmful blooms.
Impact None as yet.
Start Year 2020
Description Challenger Society for Marine Science Conference (Liverpool, Sep. 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I presented a poster: "Revealing the timing of ocean stratification using remotely-sensed ocean fronts", describing research undertaken during the FASTNEt project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description SPIE Remote Sensing of the Ocean 2017 (Warsaw, Sep. 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I presented a talk: "Revealing the timing of ocean stratification using remotely sensed ocean fronts", raising several questions from the specialised ocean remote sensing audience, and stimulated a request for collaboration on an international joint proposal.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017