Real-time reporting of ecosystem metrics from acoustic sensors on gliders

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Environmental Sciences


The assessment of marine pelagic ecosystems poses a number of methodological challenges for sampling: the requirement for high spatial and temporal resolution, concurrent biological and environmental information, and behavioural responses to sampling equipment. Active acoustic techniques are now routinely used to resolve the high resolution distribution of marine organisms (from zooplankton to fish and larger organisms), typically from large research ships. The ability of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) such as underwater gliders to carry active acoustic sensors pertinent to ecosystem research has only recently been explored. However, due to their high data volume creation, these sensors currently store data locally for retrieval and analysis once the platform is recovered.
One of the large appeals of gliders is directing them to regions of interest and receiving data in real-time. The current simple echosounder integrated into gliders generates 256 byte strings per ping (ping rate of 0.25 - 1 Hz). Newer, more complex wideband echosounders an order of magnitude more. These data need processing and constraining into metrics (acoustic area backscattering strength, vertical distribution, aggregation) onboard the glider, which can then be transmitted back. Thus enabling ecosystem descriptors to be transmitted back to shore from the glider/AUV in real-time and realizing these platforms capabilities for ecosystem research relevant to both fisheries management and impact assessments.
This PhD project will work with state-of-the-art acoustic instruments to develop on-board processing capabilities to realize this challenge.
When acoustic data are displayed in echograms, aggregations and scattering of zooplankton and fish are evident forming diverse spatial patterns such as schools, shoals and diffuse clouds. Echotrace classification techniques enable this complex information to be simplified. This project will use existing acoustic datasets from wideband and narrowband echosounders to develop advanced compression methods that will allow the pertinent information to be transmitted down the low-bandwidth channel and hence influence the mission. Given that onboard processing is limited, our initial approach will be to state-of-the-art machine learning methods such as Deep Neural Networks (currently being used by us in lip-reading) which are trained expensively (offline) but need little run-time computation. Our aim is to develop a compression hierarchy in which the most needed information is sent first, followed by the nuances.
The student will work with glider and acoustic instrument manufacturers to implement the developed metrics and processing capabilities into a glider deployment. BAS and UEA deploy gliders in a number of environments (e.g. North Atlantic, Antarctic) and it is envisaged the student will use one of these opportunities to implement their technique.


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Fielding S (2020) Colour maps for fisheries acoustic echograms in ICES Journal of Marine Science

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/N012070/1 30/09/2016 30/03/2025
1802918 Studentship NE/N012070/1 30/09/2016 30/05/2020 Robert Blackwell
Description My paper, Colour maps for fisheries acoustic echograms has resulted in Echoview, one of the main software vendors of fisheries acoustic software, changing their software and updating their training programme.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Other
Title EchoJulia 
Description EchoJulia is a suite of libraries for fisheries acoustic echo sounder data processing in Julia. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2018 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact The software has facilitated experimentation with real time processing of echo sounder data using small, lower power computers (Raspberry Pi). 
Title Tools for fisheries acoustic colour map selection 
Description This software provides tools to measure the perceptual uniformity of colour maps and suitability for fisheries acoustic echograms. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2019 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact EchoView is the principal software application used in fisheries acoustics. The new version will include new colour maps and facilities as a direct result of my paper and this accompanying software. 
Description Invited talk at DevEast 2018 Software Development Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I was invited to give a keynote talk. I talked about Scientific Computing and how relates to my work with fisheries acoustics in the Southern Ocean.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description School Visit (Sproughton Junior School, Ipswich) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact I gave a talk at Sproughton Junior School on my experiences of visiting Antarctica. The school headmistress reported increased interest in Science lessons.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017