Flow, Water column & Benthic Ecology 4D (FLOWBEC)

Lead Research Organisation: National Oceanography Centre
Department Name: Science and Technology


FLOWBEC aims at measuring FLOW, Water Column and Benthic ECology in 4 dimensions to assess the potential effects of Marine Renewable Energy Devices (MREDs) on the environment. It addresses clear knowledge gaps identified by NERC, DEFRA and UKERC in the effects of MREDs on flow conditions, habitats and ecological interactions. It will use a wealth of observation techniques above and under water, ranging from radar to sonar and in situ measurements, to be deployed over 2 years at 3 key sites around the UK. These measurements will feed into models of ecological interactions and habitat preferences, allowing predictions of the multiple effects of large MRED arrays.
Being fully cross-disciplinary, this project will engage different academic beneficiaries at each stage. Researchers in the field of instrument design (in the laboratory and at sea) will benefit from our experience in building the different systems and adapting them to long-term deployments on the seabed, in extremely challenging environments. This will be done by carefully planned Knowledge Exchange activities and open-access publication of our results, as well as exchange of personnel. The avenues opened for continuous imaging of complex and dynamic 3-D structures will be useful to researchers in other fields associated with ecological systems and marine structures, but also in medical 4-D imaging.

Planned Impact

From the start of the project we would invite a number of representatives from stakeholder bodies to form a science project board who would review progress and influence scientific focus and outputs. (e.g. Ashley Holt (MMO); Ian Davies (Marine Scotland); Jenny Norris (EMEC) ; CCW, others to be identified once the project begins). This group would be in a position to provide both direct and indirect lines of communication between the project and industry/regulators, potentially acting as an informal filter and conduit for information that will be valued by all parties.

Liaise closely with the hosts of the study sites (EMEC, Wave Hub, Strangford Lough) to explore the most appropriate methods of engaging with developers, regulators and other key stakeholders involved with those sites. In particular we would extend the invitation to observe, comment and influence our research activities as an ongoing process, and potentially adjust our approach based on such feedback.

Where appropriate we would liaise with instrument manufacturers to highlight techniques and data analyses that could have wider market potential. For example Oceanwaves GMBH (radar), Simrad (sonar) etc.

We will liaise closely with NERC's KE Team who we hope will provide a further conduit to a wider stakeholder community and take on the role of coordinating larger cross-project events to showcase the outputs of the projects. In particular an annual mini-conference for marine renewable related research ought to be considered. The wider stakeholder community could include international regulators, media and the planned NERC KE Marine Renewable Energy Portal.

We will take advantage of opportunistic events where appropriate to raise the profile of the project and engage with stakeholders. Possible opportunistic events at which the project could be showcased include PRIMaRE Science Meetings & SOWFIA (EU wave energy project) stakeholder engagement events.

We will explore the merits of a standardized publications policy for project related outputs that may involve allowing stakeholders, with whom we are cooperating, an early sight of any draft publications and sufficient time to respond to results prior to publication if necessary. In addition we will consider a fixed term moratorium on making project data and results available outside the project to account for commercially sensitive issues that may surround prototype device related data. This is already a practice adopted by researchers working in this area and has been found to be a pragmatic approach by all concerned (U. Queens & MCT for example), and a way of minimizing the risk of misinterpretation of results and their potential to damage either party or the industry as a whole.

We will liaise closely with the other NERC funded projects and develop synergistic approaches to KE to maximize impact for all projects and minimize duplication of effort and the potential for stakeholder 'event fatigue'. We aim to begin as we mean to go on in cooperating with the other funded project by proposing an initial joint workshop between the projects to gain a clear understanding of each other's aims and plans and approaches to KE. A combined joint newsletter might be worth investigating, as might be a standard set of introductory slides available for powerpoint presentations illustrating the three projects areas and how they interrelate. The projects already have overlaps in participants - Ian Bryden and George Smith are in both EBAO and FLOWBEC, Beth Scott is in both FLOWBEC and RESPONSE, which will make communications between projects inherent.

We will also liaise with marine renewable energy initiatives in other research councils, such as the upcoming EPSRC-funded SuperGen 3 (decision imminent): Robin Wallace Co-ordinator).


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Description The project has developed and demonstrated new methods for observing ocean hydrodynamics and ecological activity at high energy sites.
Ongoing research is demonstrating the anticipated linkage between the physical behaviour of the water and the behaviour of birds and fish in such high energy environments that will enable informed predictions about the possible effects of marine renewable energy devices.
Exploitation Route Some of techniques developed during the project are being taken up by the industry and are the subject of further proposals to enable their use into the future.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy,Environment

URL http://noc.ac.uk/projects/flowbec
Description There is likely to be a modest increase in the number of tidal stream turbines in the next decade. A major concern is that deep diving seabirds (auks Alcidae sp and cormorants Phalacrocorax sp) may collide with the moving components of devices during foraging dives. However, if individuals do not dive near tidal stream turbines within the tidal pass habitats favoured for installations, then they will not face collision risks. Identifying associations between physical conditions and deep diving seabirds would allow species fine scale foraging distributions within tidal passes to be predicted, leading to estimations of spatial overlap between species foraging distributions and tidal stream turbines. Here we outline a suite of biological and physical datasets from the Fall of Warness, Orkney, UK that have been collated to identify associations between physical conditions and vulnerable species. Preliminary results reveal associations between strong currents and several vulnerable species although seasonal variations were seen. However, the inclusion of more physical conditions in future statistical analysis will allow more precise predictions of species fine-scale distributions. This will lead towards confident estimations of spatial overlap between deep diving seabirds and devices in tidal pass habitats. The range of methods developed under this grant have wide applicability across the marine energy sector and across the wider marine sector. The marine radar remote sensing methods developed at the NOC are receiving increasing interest as a way of observing a range of parameters (e.g. current, depth, roughness) at difficult sites from the shore and without the need for placing equipment in the water. The FLOWBEC acoustic measurement frame has been applied at the Meygen tidal energy development in the Pentland Firth, supported by an InnovateUK KTP placement via Aberdeen University.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Economic

Description NERC Innovation Call 2017
Amount £262,102 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R014779/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 06/2019
Description Radar Research, Results & Data to Decisions - R3D2
Amount £62,500 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/W007347/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2021 
End 05/2022
Title Licensing of Marine Radar-derived current mapping algorithms 
Description This relates to a new and robust algorithm for the mapping of ocean currents by extracting the Doppler shift of ocean waves from the radar backscatter imagery. The underlying principle is not a new one, but the algorithm for extracting the information is novel. This was developed during the FLOWBEC project, was also used during the PentlandX project and has now been licensed to the FORCE Tidal Energy Test Centre to use at their test site overlooking the Minas Passage in Nova Scotia, Canada. 
IP Reference  
Protection Copyrighted (e.g. software)
Year Protection Granted
Licensed Yes
Impact The licensed algorithms will provide current vector maps across the FORCE test site enabling near real time monitoring when sufficient wave signatures are present on the radar imagery. These data will support the development of a localised, measured Tidal Current Atlas, which will support turbine installation location decisions and provide the context for assessments of turbine efficiency, and contribute to model validation exercises.
Title Wave Inversion Coastal Water Depth and Current Vector Mapping 
Description Software applied to marine radar data to derive water depth maps and current vector maps based on observed wave dynamics. 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact The licensing of this technology to Marlan Maritime Technologies Ltd and their associated company MM Sensors Ltd makes it available to the wider community in a scalable and affordable fashion for a wide range of coastal monitoring purposes. 
URL https://www.coastsense.com/