BioCam - Mapping of Benthic Biology, Geology and Ecology with Essential Ocean Variables

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

Abstract

The UK and international governments need to understand the effects of human activities on deep-sea ecosystems in order to make well informed decisions on how to protect and preserve them for future generations. In particular, deep-water coral reefs can be thought of a hotspot for biological activity, providing a rich habitat for diverse communities of marine life at depths of up to ~2000 m. At the same time deep-sea corals grow slowly, taking several thousands of years to form these reefs, are fragile and extremely sensitive to changes in the environment. As such, failure to protect them from trawling and industrial activities may have irreversible effects not only on the distribution of coral, but also on the distribution of the marine communities they support.

However, monitoring of live coral distribution is expensive and time consuming. The main reason for this is that while deep-water corals are sparsely distributed over areas the size of a large city, the features that need to be observed to identify them reliably are on the scale of centimetres. Furthermore, colour is often used to tell apart healthy live coral from dead coral, which means that direct visual observation using underwater cameras is often necessary. Unfortunately, taking images underwater requires vehicles equipped with cameras and powerful lighting systems to operate within one or two meters of the seafloor. Since vehicles operating this close to the seafloor need to avoid obstacles, they can only travel at about a fifth of the speed people walk. In addition to these limitations, while an image can tell us if live coral is present or not, more advanced 3D imaging methods are needed to also tell us how much coral there is, which is important to know when monitoring changes in their abundance.

In this project, we will develop a 3D underwater camera system that is capable of measuring the distribution of live coral on the seafloor over areas that are more than 50 times larger than is currently possible. The system will use a pair of highly sensitivity cameras, a powerful flashed lighting system and a pulsed laser to obtain full colour images and high resolution 3D shape information at a range of almost 10 m (~5 times higher than is typical) from the seafloor. Being able to take high-resolution images from further away will increase the area that can be observed in a single frame and also allow underwater vehicles to operate at safer altitudes and so travel significantly faster than previously possible. Furthermore, images obtained by the 3D camera system will be processed to generate large 3D image landscapes that cover areas of several hundreds of hectares (1 hectare = 10,000m2). These landscapes will each consist of several hundreds of thousands of images of the seafloor obtained over several days using an underwater vehicle. The landscapes will provide scientists with a rich, explorable computer generated reconstruction of deep-sea environments that they can use to visualise and study patterns in the distribution of live coral that would not be immediately obvious in a folder consisting of several hundreds of thousands of raw image frames. Furthermore, the reconstructions will be made compatible with existing web-based interfaces that will potentially allow scientists from all over the world to directly identify live coral and make measurements of their size and distribution over the internet.

The technology developed in this project will allow live coral distributions to be studied over spatial scales that were not previously possible. By revisiting sites over several years, the high-resolution data obtained by the proposed sensor will help facilitate a better understand of the changes that take place on the seafloor, and allow our governments to make better informed decisions regarding the best strategies to preserve and protect these habitats without unnecessarily compromising commercial and industrial activities in the ocean.

Planned Impact

This research will develop a compact, low power 3D imaging system that is capable of generating high-resolution digital reconstructions of underwater scenes. The representation of underwater scenes offered by commercial underwater camera systems is limited to the footprint of a single image frame. However, the extent visible in a single image frame is often not well matched to the task of observing or inspecting natural scenes or artificial structures since it yields little insight into features and patterns that exist on broader scales. The advantage of the system proposed in this work is that it will deliver digital 3D reconstructions of underwater scenes composed of several thousands of images or more, as a packaged data product. The use of standard data and metadata formats will also allow organisations to share data when necessary, and will allow features covering the full range of spatial scales observed to be seamlessly visualised, explored and interrogated by its users using existing software infrastructures. The capabilities offered will allow users to optimise the way in which observation and inspection tasks are performed as well as provide an opportunity to consider the most effective way to archive and maintain data.

The sensor hardware will have integrated lighting control and data storage, and will use standard communication protocols that will make it possible to integrate the device into existing platforms with minimal disruption. Furthermore, the capabilities offered by the device can fulfil the role played by standard underwater cameras, which means that it has a potential market of several thousands of underwater platforms, including low-cost, compact (human deployable) remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). The application areas for such systems span natural science, mineral resource prospecting, environmental monitoring, mapping of debris and plastics, and industrial inspection. The main non-academic beneficiaries of such a system are commercial and government marine conservation groups and industrial groups involved with the installation, maintenance and decommissioning of artificial structures in freshwater and oceanic environments.

With regards to seafloor monitoring, long range autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) equipped with the 3D imaging system developed in this work can provide a cost effective solution for sustained monitoring of the seafloor. In particular, the high-level of autonomy can offer a significant reduction in cost through reduced reliance on crewed research vessels. The availability of high-resolution imagery poses advantages from an operational perspective since it can improve navigational estimates and so improve the localisation accuracy of specific features of significance. This capability can be extended to improve position estimates in real-time to increase the repeatability of seafloor observations by allowing specific areas to be revisited for more efficient temporal monitoring.

With regard to inspection of simple structures (e.g. pipelines, damns), pre-inspection planning surveys and the inspection of decommissioned sites, these are operationally comparable to monitoring surveys. These can benefit from the 3D reconstruction capabilities developed in this proposal. However, the economic pressures and risks associated with inspecting more complex structures (e.g. rigging, plants, hulls) demands low-cost, highly manoeuvrable platforms that can operate near their targets, such as compact, human deployable ROVs. For such systems, the relative localisation (i.e. knowing where the platform is with respect to the target) is a major operational bottleneck that makes complete inspection a time consuming task. Extension of the mapping capabilities described in this proposal to enable real-time generation of 3D reconstructions would allow ROV operators with an approximate knowledge of the targeted structure's shape to perform more efficient and complete inspections.
 
Description The new BioCam system has now been tested and successfully deployed during the expedition DY108/109 on board the RRS Discovery, in the Darwin Mounds Marine Protected Area. The resulting photomosais provided unprecedented images of cold-water coral distribution, but also of litter distribution and the presence of a whale-fall, which we had not suspected from our traditional datasets (based on acoustic mapping and single video tracks).
Exploitation Route Once the project is finished, the new camera system could be brought to market.
In the meantime, we plan further research projects and monitoring surveys using the system. For example, a project proposal has already been submitted to the INSITE call from NERC, and has resulted in a new funded project (AT-SEA, which will start in summer 2021)
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-49753440
 
Description The results of the initial tests during expedition DY108/109 on board the RRS Discovery have been widely reported in the media. Examples are given in the section on impact, but include articles on the BBC (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-49753440), the Times newspaper (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/protected-coral-reef-is-blighted-by-plastic-waste-03k85j63v) and specialist magazines (https://phys.org/news/2019-10-d-imaging-technology-scottish-coral.html). They have also been presented to the scientific community (see list of presentations associated with this project). The research activity has attracted new graduate students to the research group. Based on the results achieved in this project, new proposals were submitted, including to the EU Horizon Europe scheme (awaiting evaluation). Finally, the Joint Nature Conservation Comittee participated in the expedition, and now considers the application of BioCam and comparable technologies for its benthic monitoring (see also section on Collaborations and Partnerships).
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Autonomous Techniques for anthropogenic Structure Ecological Assessment (AT-SEA)
Amount £476,775 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/T010649/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 03/2023
 
Description Autonomous Techniques for anthropogenic Structure Ecological Assessment (AT-SEA)
Amount £167,175 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/T010592/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 03/2023
 
Description Hanse Wissenschaftskolleg Fellowship
Amount € 50,000 (EUR)
Organisation Institute for Advanced Study 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Germany
Start 09/2021 
End 03/2023
 
Description Seabed Mining And Resilience To EXperimental impact
Amount £1,575,602 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/T003537/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2021 
End 05/2025
 
Description BioCam 
Organisation Joint Nature Conservation Committee
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The BioCam project is coordinated by the University of Southampton. Hence, our contribution from NOC is limited to advice about cold-water coral reef formation, the design of benthic AUV surveys, and support with cruise planning.
Collaborator Contribution Blair Thornton of the University of Southampton, School of Electronics and Computer Science is the actual Principal Investigator of the BioCam project. He coordinates the project and his team are carrying out the lion share of the work. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee provide the government aspect regarding Marine Protected Areas, and propose study sites. Sonardyne will assist in the development and testiong of the new camera system.
Impact This project only started last summer so there are no outputs yet
Start Year 2017
 
Description BioCam 
Organisation Sonardyne International Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The BioCam project is coordinated by the University of Southampton. Hence, our contribution from NOC is limited to advice about cold-water coral reef formation, the design of benthic AUV surveys, and support with cruise planning.
Collaborator Contribution Blair Thornton of the University of Southampton, School of Electronics and Computer Science is the actual Principal Investigator of the BioCam project. He coordinates the project and his team are carrying out the lion share of the work. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee provide the government aspect regarding Marine Protected Areas, and propose study sites. Sonardyne will assist in the development and testiong of the new camera system.
Impact This project only started last summer so there are no outputs yet
Start Year 2017
 
Description BioCam 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department School of Electronics and Computer Science Southampton
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The BioCam project is coordinated by the University of Southampton. Hence, our contribution from NOC is limited to advice about cold-water coral reef formation, the design of benthic AUV surveys, and support with cruise planning.
Collaborator Contribution Blair Thornton of the University of Southampton, School of Electronics and Computer Science is the actual Principal Investigator of the BioCam project. He coordinates the project and his team are carrying out the lion share of the work. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee provide the government aspect regarding Marine Protected Areas, and propose study sites. Sonardyne will assist in the development and testiong of the new camera system.
Impact This project only started last summer so there are no outputs yet
Start Year 2017
 
Description Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) collaborations on the monitoring of MPAs 
Organisation Joint Nature Conservation Committee
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Long-standing collaboration with JNCC on the characterisation and monitoring of benthic habitats in (deep-water) MPAs around the UK. Mainly consists of data exchanges, advice to policy, advice on survey approaches etc., but has also resulted in the agreement to fund a CASE studentship for a PhD student. Student still has to be recruited
Collaborator Contribution Long-standing collaboration with JNCC on the characterisation and monitoring of benthic habitats in (deep-water) MPAs around the UK. Mainly consists of data exchanges, advice to policy, advice on survey approaches etc., but has also resulted in the agreement to fund a CASE studentship for a PhD student. Student still has to be recruited
Impact This has resulted into input in JNCC recommended operational guidelines on the use of ROVs and AUVs, in collaborations on cruises, in an upcoming CASE studentship, and in evidence towards the assessment of MPAs (e.g. The Canyons MCZ, Darwin Mounds MPA).
Start Year 2011
 
Description Southampton Uni 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department School of Electronics and Computer Science Southampton
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution collaborations on projects, shared PhD students.
Collaborator Contribution collaborations on projects, shared PhD students
Impact This collaboration is currently ongoing, mainly in the framework of BioCAM.
Start Year 2017
 
Description "Using robotic technology to study complex deep-sea environments in all their facets" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact presentation at the UK-Chile Frontiers of Science 2021 meeting organised by Royal Society and the Chilean Academy of Sciences
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Article in ECO Magazine: "Observing Deep, Cold-water Coral Recovery" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Article about the monitoring of the Darwin Mounds MPA using novel technology, published on 30/11/2020 in the special issue of ECO Magazine on the deep sea
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://digital.ecomagazine.com/publication/frame.php?i=683954&p=1&pn=&ver=html5
 
Description BBC News article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC News article reporting on the levels of marine litter found in the Darwin Mounds marine protected area during the combined CLASS/BioCAM expedition DY108/109
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-49884457
 
Description BBC News article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC News article online reporting on the mapping capabilities of the BioCAM instrument deployed during the combined CLASS/BioCAM expedition DY108/109
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-49753440
 
Description BBC News article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC News article online reporting the finding of coral recruits on a settling experiment during expedition DY108/109 (combined CLASS/BioCam expedition)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-49727181
 
Description BBC news article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC news article online, describing the aim of our DY108/109 expedition (CLASS/BioCAM)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-49606937
 
Description BBC news article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BBC News article online narrating the start of the DY108/109 research work (CLASS/BioCAM expedition)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-49688504
 
Description Deep-sea ecosystems 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Contribution to a podcast for the Geographical magazine, discussing deep-sea ecosystems and how we study them
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Habitat mapping in the deep ocean: using the latest technologies to chart the Earth's least known ecosystem 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Lecture at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study, broadcast over Zoom to its alumni
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Invite to discuss expedition DY108/109 on BBC Today 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Invite to discuss expedition DY108/109 on BBC Today : As the chief scientist of the CLASS/BioCAM expedition to the Darwin Mounds, I was invited for a live radio-interview on 6 September, the day we sailed, on BBC Today. However, while I was ready and stand-by for the interview, it was cancelled because the sudden passing away of Robert Mugabe became a more important news item that day.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited Keynote at VLIZ Marine Science day 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Keynote presentation at VLIZ annual Marine Science day. Title: Towards a better understanding of our marine environment: of habitats, maps and engineering
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.vliz.be/en/event/vliz-marine-science-day-2018
 
Description Invited lecture at University of Fribourg: Habitat mapping in the deep sea 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Invited lecture at lecture series of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland: "Habitat mapping in the deep sea". Lecture took place online and resulted in several questions
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Invited lecture at University of Gibraltar: "Habitat mapping in submarine canyons and use of marine robotics (ROVs and AUVs)" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited lecture for the MSc students at University of Gibraltar: "Habitat mapping in submarine canyons and use of marine robotics (ROVs and AUVs)". Lecture delivered online and received several questions
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Invited presentation at OGS, Trieste: "Habitat mapping in submarine canyons" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited presentation at OGS, Trieste: "Habitat mapping in submarine canyons", as part of my extended research visit at OGS, Trieste
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Invited presentation at a workshop on the upcoming UN BBNJ treaty 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited presentation at a workshop on the upcoming UN BBNJ treaty organised by the University of Aberdeen, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and DOSI. I was invited to present a very short presentation on the use of technology in deep-sea research, to start the discussions on the draft text for the Treaty, particularly regarding capacity building and technology transfer.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Invited presentation on the mapping of marine litter at mid-term project meeting of "MarGnet" project in Venice 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Invited presentation on the mapping of marine litter at mid-term project meeting of "MarGnet" project in Venice. Audience included project participants, including industry representatives (survey instrumentation, litter recycling industries), regional policymakers, government representatives and research scientists.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description JNCC workshop on monitoring of offshore MPAs 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Participation in workshop organised by Elly Hill from JNCC on 29 November 2018 to disucss the monitoring of offshore MPAs (including the use of Autosub and BioCAM over the Darwin Mounds)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description News article in the Times in Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact News article in the Times in Scotland, reporting on the activities and findings of the combined CLASS/BioCAM expedition DY108/109
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/protected-coral-reef-is-blighted-by-plastic-waste-03k85j63v
 
Description News article of the Phys.org website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact News article on the Phys.org website reporting on the new BioCAM technology and cold-water coral MPA studied during the combined CLASS/BioCam expedition DY108/109
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://phys.org/news/2019-10-d-imaging-technology-scottish-coral.html
 
Description PROBUS presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited presentation at the learned society 'Probus' in Ghent, Belgium. Title: Habitat mapping in the deep sea
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Presentation in Bath 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited presentation at the Bath Royal Literature and Scientific Institution. Title: Habitat mapping int he deep sea
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Twitter feed on the combined CLASS/BioCAM expedition DY108/109 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The combined expedition DY108/109 for the projects CLASS & BioCAM was reported via the @CLASS_UKRI Twitter feed. The account gained 57.1K impressions over the 28 days of the cruise, an increase of 360% compared with the period before.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://twitter.com/class_ukri
 
Description Using robotic technology to study complex deep-sea environments in all their facets 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation for an online webinar of the Geological Society of London Marine Studies Group
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description cruise blog for DY108/109 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Online blog about the cruise activities of the combined CLASS/BioCAM expedition DY108/109. Used the CLASS website as platform but covered the operations for both projects. Nine entries were posted during the cruise. Note that the cruise blog section of the CLASS website was specifically set up for this expedition, but since then has been used for other CLASS-related cruises as well.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://projects.noc.ac.uk/class-project/blog
 
Description interview on Radio 4 Today 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 27 December 2018 around the topic of the use of technology to support marine conservation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description invited presentation at the MARUM institute in Bremen "Habitat mapping in submarine canyons & use of marine robotics" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact invited presentation at the MARUM institute in Bremen "Habitat mapping in submarine canyons & use of marine robotics". Part of the monthly seminar series at MARUM
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.marum.de/en/Habitat-mapping-in-submarine-canyons.html
 
Description presentation on seafloor mapping to MP Nusrat Ghani, Minister for Transport, including Maritime 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact presentation on seafloor mapping to MP Nusrat Ghani (Minister for Transport, including Maritime) during her visit to NOC on 28 January 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020