Ocean observation monitoring technology comes to New Zealand

Issue 38 – May 2012

This article looks at how an Environmental Sample Processor could help monitor and manage New Zealand's marine environment, and how an instrument protocol helps manage the installation of sensor networks in challenging environments, for example, in bad weather or at sea.

This month, scientists from New Zealand and the United States are trialling a robotic analytical laboratory in Tasman Bay. The Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) will provide site collection and analysis of water samples in the bay and communicate results back to the Cawthron Institute in Nelson and the US-based Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

Developed by MBARI, ESPs have previously been deployed at depths of 1600 metres below sea level in coastal waters around the United States. This is the first time the technology has been deployed in the Southern Hemisphere.

ESPs allow researchers to conduct molecular biological analyses remotely, in near-real time over a sustained period, and with interactive capability.

Helen Smale, Manager, Marlborough Shellfish Quality Programme, sees the technology as the next big leap in monitoring and managing our marine environment. 'It could allow for better planning and a quicker and targeted response to changing environmental conditions. For a marine farmer to know in near-real time, for example, when a harmful bloom is occurring would have incredible benefits for the aquaculture industry, New Zealand exports, and for consumers.'

After the planned 30-day trial of the ESP, Cawthron and MBARI scientists will analyse the data gathered and evaluate the potential future use of this type of monitoring technology in New Zealand waters.

Connected – developing a network for ocean observation

The technology behind the ESP is just one example of MBARI's ongoing work in the field of ocean observation. Other recent work includes developing a protocol for sensor networks.

The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) is an organisation that works in cooperation with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and liaises with seven ISO technical committees including Technical Committee 211 Geographic information/Geomatics. OGC published OGC PUCK Protocol Standard version 1.4 on 25 January 2012. Originally developed by MBARI for use in the marine environment, the protocol can be used to install and configure software components for any sensor network containing RS232 or Ethernet-connected instruments.

Most sensor networks require careful manual installation and configuration and often these steps must be performed in extremely challenging environments, for example, in bad weather or at sea, which can increase the possibility of human error. The protocol addresses these installation and configuration challenges by defining an instrument protocol to store and automatically retrieve metadata and other information from the instrument itself.

The framework, concepts, and methodology for testing, and the criteria to be achieved to claim conformance for the protocol are specified in ISO 19105:2002 Geographic information – Conformance and testing.

The collaborative relationship between MBARI and Cawthron scientists extends back nearly 20 years and has encouraged the development and application of cutting-edge technologies and related protocols.

Published in environment.