Scientists monitor health of Indian Ocean with bio-robotic technology

Signal of change / Scientists monitor health of Indian Ocean with bio-robotic technology

By Michael Zahn / 29 Jul 2015

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has recently been deploying so-called ‘BioArgo’ robotic floats in the Indian Ocean to monitor the physical and biological background of the world’s third largest ocean. The programmed devices are equipped with sensors in order to measure biological indicators such as dissolved oxygen, nitrate, chlorophyll, organic matter and particles.

According to CSIRO project leader Dr Nick Hardman-Mountford, "These can tell us about the growth of plankton, how much carbon they take up, how much gets used up the food chain and how much gets buried”. He adds that the research can deliver information in order to forecast the Indian Ocean's potential for food production and carbon capture, and improve understanding of what keeps it healthy and productive.

The four bio-robots descend to a depth of 2000 metres (over 6,500 feet) where they measure the ecosystem. As soon as they resurface, data is transmitted via satellites to the scientists.

The undertaking is part of a data gathering initiative for a mission led by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) and is funded by the Department of Industry's Australia-India Strategic Research Fund, CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere Flagship and Earth Observation Informatics Future Science Platform, the Indian Government's Department of Science and Technology, and UNFAO.

Image caption: The deployment of an Argo float in the Indian Ocean

So what?

The Indian Ocean offers plentiful fishing grounds and mineral resources; it also directly influences the climatic conditions of the neighbouring environment, where more than 16 per cent of the global population live. 

Due to the abundance of natural resources it is strategically important to the surrounding regions, particularly to Australia and India. The eastern territory alone provides fish catches of more than seven million tons a year and possesses vast resources of minerals such as copper, iron, zinc, silver and gold - as well as fossil fuels. However, in spite of its economic significance, relatively little is known about the biological conditions of its depths.

The researchers intend to create a three-dimensional picture of the ocean, using the bio-robots. The findings could potentially improve knowledge about the impact of oceans on regional and global climates and weather extremes – such as the 2011 marine heatwave which caused the devastation of coral reefs and fisheries in Western Australia. In the long run, the technology could provide information to predict extreme weather and support in forewarning and protecting both fisheries and regional communities. 

Sources

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (2015, June 25) Robots to identify what makes the Indian Ocean tick

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2015) Aboard the Nansen (#EAFNansen)

Oceanhub (2015, July 1) Robots carry out ocean health check!

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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