News | 27 February 2024

Oceanographic campaign validates innovative technologies for marine ecosystem management


The PLOME project, led by the University of Girona with the participation of the ICM-CSIC, has tested new technologies that will allow the deployment of stations and vehicles to monitor the marine environment and provide real-time data. 

Estacions fixes de la UPC preparades per ser col·locades al fons marí.
Estacions fixes de la UPC preparades per ser col·locades al fons marí.

An oceanographic campaign has validated this past December a set of innovative technologies developed within the framework of a research project coordinated by the University of Girona (UdG) with the aim of improving the supervision, monitoring, and management of marine ecosystems. The campaign took place aboard the oceanographic vessel Sarmiento de Gamboa, of the CSIC, off the Catalan coast, at depths ranging from 70 to 350 meters.

The research project is called "Long-Term Platform for the Observation of Marine Ecosystems (PLOME)" and is comprised of six partners: the University of Girona (UdG), the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC), the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya - BarcelonaTech (UPC), the University of Balearic Islands (UIB), the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) and the company Iqua Robotics.

The PLOME project, funded by the Spanish Research Agency and Next Generation European funds, is working to develop a non-invasive and modular platform to gather essential data for the scientific community to supervise, monitor, and manage marine ecosystems more efficiently. So far, a set of independent systems has been developed, consisting of fixed stations that remain on the seafloor, underwater vehicles, and surface vehicles. These systems are equipped with batteries and wireless communication systems, and they work together autonomously to collect data.

Currently, data extraction can only be predominantly carried out when a human team conducts an oceanographic campaign. The project aims to advance this information gathering system. Thus, the PLOME platform allows remote monitoring without the need for human intervention once the systems have been deployed on the seafloor, over a period of several weeks, with real-time communications facilitating ecosystem tracking.

The ICM, under the coordination of Jacopo Aguzzi, Joan B. Company and Nixon Bahamon, has directed the positioning operations of the PLOME platforms, making them coincide with the monitoring areas of the LIFE-ECOREST project. In this way, ICM experts provide the necessary knowledge to establish the species of conservation importance and commercial relevance that must be evaluated by these platforms, guiding data collection and the preparation of information on ecological indicators.

Testing technologies in situ

During the December campaign, two fixed stations, two underwater vehicles, and a surface buoy were deployed to transmit information, which served to validate the operation of the various technologies developed since the beginning of the project. The systems communicated correctly using acoustic modems to share data and optical communication to share images. The cameras, installed on each system, recorded data from the seafloor and simultaneously processed it using artificial intelligence techniques to detect the presence of individuals such as fish or crustaceans. New technologies for optical and acoustic mapping of the seafloor were also validated, allowing for the reconstruction of terrain or acoustic visualization to reduce the impact of artificial light in habitats where sunlight does not reach.

The test results were successful, and work is already underway on the next validation campaigns of the project. The next one will take place at OBSEA, the UPC's cabled marine observatory located in Vilanova i la Geltrú. In this case, a fixed station will be installed with the capacity to contain an underwater vehicle that will daily carry out monitoring tasks and return to the station to recharge batteries and transmit information. The final campaign of the project will be carried out in 2025, once again aboard an oceanographic vessel, to validate the final development of the deep-sea monitoring platform.