A sea-change in geophysical-marine surveying for protecting our Ocean’s future
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of St Andrews
Unit of AssessmentGeography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
Summary Impact TypeEnvironmental
Research Subject Area(s)
Mathematical Sciences: Statistics
Information and Computing Sciences: Artificial Intelligence and Image Processing
Engineering: Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Summary of the impact
Safeguarding our seas through the establishment of marine Special
Protection Areas and cultural heritage Seascapes is a fundamental aim of
European Union Directives and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.
Over the past decade, sonar research development led by Dr Bates of the
University of St Andrews has had widespread influence on international
government and industry through accurate mapping of these assets,
championing their importance and establishing new management strategies
for their conservation. This work has been pivotal to the creation of 107
of the current legislated European Marine Special Areas of Conservation
and Marine Special Protection Areas. The innovations in technology
pioneered by this work also are providing critical findings on climate
change impacts in the Earth's most sensitive and threatened environments
with world media coverage on work in the Arctic including the award-
winning TV series Operation Iceberg in 2012. Strong international media
involvement has become one of the hallmarks of this work which
simultaneously delivers research results as outputs of high quality across
the globe. Furthermore, the technology has had economic impact in the form
of three spin-out companies.
Understanding complex systems on the Earth's surface requires a
multi-disciplinary approach where information is needed that is both
spatially and temporarily extensive. Over the past decade it has become
increasingly clear that this coverage can only be made using remote
sensing techniques such as provided by geophysical methods. In astronomy
and petroleum exploration, for example, this has been achieved, but for
other disciplines it has only relatively recently becoming possible.
Seismic acoustic methods have been the mainstay of oil and gas exploration
for over 40 years, but the last decade has seen important new technology
developments based on multicomponent wave fields. Initial investigations
on these techniques for characterising fractured gas reservoirs1
in 2001 led Bates, a researcher at the University of St Andrews since
1996, to develop new methods for the application of acoustic techniques,
in particular for multibeam sonar2 that included imaging
techniques, novel deployment and automated processing for very high
resolution marine surveying thus producing 3D maps of seafloor and
sub-seafloor fabrics, structures and environments. A number of
publications ensued which demonstrated their application to
multi-disciplinary fields spanning geology, biology, archaeology and
environmental science which was used to capitalise publicity for the trial
of the techniques for marine conservation management in the UK2,3.
In subsequent research Bates obtained hitherto unavailable detail on
seabed habitats from ship-based measurements across major marine European
Special Areas of Conservation that were previously only available in
limited diver-based surveys. The success of the methods led to further
adaptations for investigation and classification of threatened and
protected species sites for deep-water coral in the North Atlantic3.
In 2008, interest in the research prompted the Smithsonian Tropical
Research Institute to ask Bates to test the methodologies at key fishing
Protection Zones in the Pacific Central Americas where traditional survey
had failed to recognise key seabed habitats. These were successfully
characterised using the new methods.
Parallel to the research for biological applications, a programme of
investigation into advances in novel sonar technologies for submerged
cultural heritage discovery, mapping and monitoring change began in 2002.
New automated pattern recognition algorithms for sonar images based on
Wavelet Analysis Techniques were developed and tested on artificial and
internationally important wreck sites4. In addition to
increasing the success of correctly identifying marine cultural heritage,
the techniques delivered a step-change in resolution of seafloor images,
thus forming the basis for defining new protocols for marine cultural
heritage surveying as part of long-term site management and protection5.
Recognition of the utility of sonar techniques for monitoring both short
and long-term environmental changes has led in the last three years to
experimentation with combining acoustic with laser measuring tools for
climate impact studies of marine terminating glaciers in crucial locations
such as northern Greenland. In particular for these studies, laser
scanning and sonar techniques are simultaneously deployed from bespoke
survey craft at extremely hazardous locations to measure rates of calving
and melt. This multidisciplinary research led by Bates is finding wide-
spread interest in academic studies of glacial retreat6.
References to the research
1Bates, C. R., Phillips, R., Grimm, R and Lynn, H.
2001. The Seismic Evaluation of a Naturally Fractured Tight Gas Sand
Reservoir in the Wind River Basin, Wyoming. Petroleum Geosciences, v. 7,
pp. 35-44. DOI: 10.1144/petgeo.7.1.35
Winner of the European Association of Geoscientist and Engineers Best
Paper Award for 2001.
2Bates, C. R. and Byham, P. 2001. Bathymetric Sidescan
Techniques for Near Shore Surveying. The Hydrographic Journal, v. 100, pp.
Winner of the Hydrographic Society Best Paper Award.
3Roberts, J. M., Brown, C. J., Long, D. and Bates, C. R. 2005.
Acoustic Mapping using a Multibeam Echosounder Reveals Cold-water Coral
Reefs and Surrounding Habitats. Coral Reefs, v. 24, pp. 654-669. DOI: 10.1007/s00338-005-0049-6
Article was published in a specialist peer-reviewed journal and has 41
citations in WoS.
4Atallah, L., Probert Smith, P. and Bates, C. R. 2002. Wavelet
analysis of bathymetric sidescan sonar data for the classification of
seafloor sediments in Hopvågen Bay - Norway. Marine Geophysical
Researches, v. 23, pp. 431-442. DOI: 10.1023/B:MARI.0000018239.07561.76
Article was published in an international peer-reviewed journal.
5Bates, C. R., Lawrence, M., Dean, M. & Robertson, P.
2011. Geophysical Methods for Wreck-Site Monitoring: the Rapid
Archaeological Site Surveying and Evaluation (RASSE) programme.
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. v 40.2: 404-416. DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-9270.2010.00298.x
Article was published in an international peer-reviewed journal.
6Neal, M., Bates, C. R., Blanchard, T. Hubbard, A. and
Woodward, J. 2012. A hardware proof of concept for a remote-controlled
glacier-surveying boat. Journal of Field Robotics. v29, 6, pp.880-890.
Article was published in a specialist peer-reviewed journal with an impact
factor of 3.580.
Details of the impact
The underpinning research was motivated by government, cross-industry and
public need for better methods to monitor, manage, protect and publicise
international marine assets, including sensitive habitats with endangered
or threatened species, cultural heritage (in particular associated with
World Heritage Sites) and critical climate-impacted environments. Sonar
methodologies developed by Bates have provided a cornerstone to meeting
the needs of government regulators while simultaneously providing the
platform for furthering public understanding of the asset importance of
such sites and habitats through a global media effort. Specifically, the
methods have been used (1) to define the existence, map the extent and
establish the baseline habitat health of new Special Areas of Conservation
and Marine Protection Areas (MPA) in Europe and Central America, (2) to
provide the means to map, monitor and manage submerged heritage sites in
European waters and (3) to record and broadcast to a global audience the
changes in critical Arctic regions. In addition, (4) financial impact in
the form of three spin-out companies ensuing from engagement efforts have
resulted from the research.
Impact on Policy Directives for the Conservation of Sensitive Marine
Habitats: The underpinning research conducted in the early 2000s by
Bates resulted in commissioned conservation reports for government, for
example on special areas of conservation, and through the development of
new sonar technologies, the adoption of the technologies in mapping
programmes. Following, Bates acted in an external consultant role for the
definitive EU project for the mapping of European marine habitats — the MESH Project "Dr
Bates' work has been instrumental in the adoption of sonar-based
technologies for broadscale sea bed surveys into mainstream use....
demonstrating how these products may be applied to policy development
and operational delivery ....has bridged that gap between `standard
research' and operational delivery"
S1. This ultimately culminated in the adoption of mandatory
procedures developed by Bates and colleagues for benthic habitat survey
based on the sonar methodologies which, in 2009, were adopted by all
principal UK Conservation Organisations (e.g. Natural England, Joint
Nature Conservancy Council, Scottish Natural Heritage) for conservation
guidelines on habitat mapping that ultimately led to the establishment of
over 107 internationally important sites of Special Areas of Conservation
and Marine Special Protection Areas. "These techniques have, and will
continue to help in the implementation of the Habitats Directive, and
more recently have been fundamental to the deliberations over MSPAs as
required by the Marine (Scotland) Act and the delivery of commitments in
the Marine Strategy Framework Directive"S2. The
sonar methods, which provide key data for the management and thus
protection of key designated areas, are now an internationally adopted
practice (e.g. fisheries protection research conducted for the Smithsonian
Tropical Research Institute, Panama under the Darwin Initiative); they
also provide the stunning visualisation widely used for public
dissemination of the information, for example with internationally
important deep-water coral sites.
Impact on Public Understanding of Marine Cultural Heritage: Since
the early successes of the multibeam programme for habitat evaluation, a
parallel research stream, as discussed in section 2, was developed for its
use in marine cultural heritage sites (wrecks, structures and drowned
palaeo-landscapes) appraisal, monitoring and management. This led to
research contracts from English Heritage to develop new visualisations and
the mandate to adopt specific protocols for monitoring important submerged
cultural heritage such as the UK Designated and Protected Wrecks under the
Protection of Wrecks Act (1973)S3. The site-specific
investigations stimulated work on drowned landscapes on the European Shelf
that are under increasing threat from climate impacts and development.
Here, associated research on the submerged Neolithic remains around World
Heritage sites in Orkney and Jersey revealed a lost world that not only
caused widespread academic interest by uncovering new insights into early
human expansion in Northern Europe but which also captured public
imagination through a series of media events. Invited exhibits, included
the Royal Society 2012 Summer Science Exhibition which saw over 11,000
visitors, made up of an audience of 15% educational, and 85% general
public and mediaS8, with Europe's Lost World
web and Facebook pages
receiving over 38,000 unique hits over the exhibit period.
Follow-up related media interest included over 3,360 reporting websites,
477 blog sites and 1630 discussion sites worldwide through 31 July 2013S9,
interviews, as far afield as California and Russia, published articles and
commentary. This led to the request for the work to be displayed in the
UK's first dedicated Mesolithic to Neolithic hunter-gatherer permanent
exhibit housed in an extension to the museum of Tomb of the Eagles,
Orkney that receives over 10,000 visitors
pa. Media interest has broadened with radio, TV and major articles
published in, amongst others, BBC Focus Magazine (average UK circulation,
65k/month) and National Geographic (average US circulation,
Impact on Public Understanding of Critical (Climate) Environments:
A complementary dimension that developed from the sonar mapping research
was first realised in 2009 with a request from Greenpeace
to join their expedition to northern Greenland to use Bates' techniques to
study the rapidly retreating, marine-terminating glaciers and areas of
sea-ice melt which are habitats to some of our most threatened species,
such as the polar bear. Significant public and governmental attention
followed during the Copenhagen Summit, 2009, and with articles for
National Geographic (US, Australia and China) and presentations to policy
makers during the 2010 Arctic Frontiers conference. The interest in this
work continued. In 2012 the BBC2 /Discovery Channel/ BBC Learning
commissioned two programmes (BBC2
Operation Iceberg) dedicated to the research, specifically
highlighting the sonar and laser scanning advancesS4. The
programmes were broadcast in the UK in Nov 2012, with an audience in
excess of 3.5 million and viewing numbers at 50% above slot averagesS4.
Subsequently, it has been broadcast to international audiences through the
Discovery Channel, an indication of the strong public interest in the
research which also received acclaim by winning the 2012 Royal Television
Society Best Science and Natural History DocumentaryS4.
Economic Impact: Apart from the evident, yet difficult to account,
economic impact resulting from public engagement events as listed above,
the sonar research has been used in commercialisation with the
establishment of the marine survey division of SOI
Ltd, a company dedicated to marine habitat conservation based at the
University of St Andrews (sales of over £800k since incorporation) S7.
In 2008, the novel, high-fidelity acoustic technologies also resulted in
the spin-out company, Advanced Underwater Surveys Ltd (ADUS).
This company's success was demonstrated in 2013 when Deep Ocean UK, a
marine industry leader with turnover in excess of £500Mpa, acquired a 50%
stake in the companyS6. Finally, the survey methodologies
developed in early tests led one of Bates' students in mid-2011 to
establish GeoSurv Ltd UK, an
independent dedicated marine survey company that posted a first-year
turnover of over £100kS5.
The sonar developments and their adoption across a wide spectrum of
applied marine spheres has had major national and international reach over
the past 10 years, as manifest by increased widespread use of the methods,
and has informed the attitude and awareness to significant global
environmental and heritage issues by both government and the wider public.
Further, the sonar developments have unlocked key information that is
being used to reduce potential harm to environments and heritage sites
with the establishment of Marine Protection Areas and Heritage Protection
Sites, helping to preserve them for future generations.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Conservation - directly quoted in text
S1Head of Marine Protected Areas, JNCC
S2Principal Advisor (Marine), Scottish Natural Heritage
Submerged Cultural Heritage - direct use of research in the
management of submerged heritage
S3Head of Maritime Archaeology, English Heritage
Climate Impact — Glacial Retreat
S4Executive Producer, BBC2 Operation Iceberg
— Documentary Series statistics
S5GeoSurv Ltd UK (http://geosurvuk.com/)
verification of spin-out company
S6Advanced Underwater Surveys Ltd, (ADUS
verification of a spin-out company from the University of St Andrews with
an economic benefit
S7SOI Ltd (http://www.soi.ltd.uk/how-we-work/)
— verification of the economic impact of the independent start-up company
at the University of St Andrews as a result of the underpinning research
S8Summer Science Exhibition Statistics sheet — corroborating
audience make-up and numbers at exhibition
S9Internet public interest statistics from period following
media publicity of Drowned Landscapes exhibition