Autonomous Underwater Vehicles

Summary

The Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Facility provides precisely navigated time series measurements of benthic imagery using Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) at selected locations on Australia’s continental shelf.  While very large-scale surface processes can be addressed adequately by remote sensing and ship-borne systems, characterisation of many marine processes requires the ability to sense at high resolution in close proximity to the seafloor.  The ability to conduct geo-referenced, high resolution, repeatable surveys of marine habitats – particularly those beyond diver depths – represents one of the key benefits of AUVs.  The facility incorporates a suite of observing programs that capitalise on the unique capabilities of AUVs and provides a critical observational link between oceanographic and benthic processes.  To support a more complete understanding of natural, climate change, and human-induced variability in shelf environments, the facility generates physical and biological observations of benthic variables that cannot be cost-effectively obtained by other means.

The AUV Facility is undertaking arguably the world’s first benthic observing program to make extensive use of AUVs for the purpose of monitoring benthic habitats on such a large scale. The surveys are broadly divided into temperate and tropical reef environments and span the entire latitudinal range of the Australian continent.

Image credit: Kim Brooks, AIMS

Instrumentation and Data

The Autonomous Underwater Vehicle facility currently owns and operates the ocean going AUV called ‘Sirius’. Managed by the University of Sydney’s Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) this vehicle is a modified version of a mid-size robotic vehicle called Seabed built at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Sirius is specifically designed for undertaking high resolution benthic optical and acoustic imaging work and is equipped with a full suite of oceanographic instruments.  These include a high resolution stereo camera pair and strobes, a 330 kHz multibeam sonar, depth and conductivity/temperature sensors, a 1200 kHz Doppler Velocity Log (DVL) including a compass with integrated roll and pitch sensors, an ultra-short baseline acoustic tracking and communications system and a flurometer to measure coloured dissolved organic matter (CDOM), chlorophyll-a and backscatter.  Data is time-stamped and logged on the vehicles on-board computer. Optical imagery collected by the AUV Sirius in Australian waters can be found through the AUV Image Viewer and the  Australian Ocean Data Network (AODN) Portal.

Application of Data

  • Australian sea-floor survey data featured in the journal Nature Scientific Data. The data set consists of 9,874 annotated images all collected by the IMOS AUV between 2008-2013. Large swaths of the global sea floor have not been mapped in detail. New robotic methods can produce enormous amounts of high-quality sea floor data, but processing and annotating this information remains challenging. The authors of the Nature Scientific Data paper have released a large data set of sea floor survey data from around the Australian coast generated by the IMOS autonomous underwater vehicle, that has also been annotated collaboratively by four research groups using a standardized labelling scheme. To read more click here.

Image Credit: Craig Macaulay, IMAS.
  • The AUV was deployed in March 2015 to examine the benefits of a no-take marine reserve off Tasmania's wild southwest coast. The research is comparing the marine life and seafloor habitat in fished environments with those found within the Tasman Fracture Commonwealth Marine Reserve (CMR) southeast of Tasmania. A section of this reserve has been no-take protected for over seven years, and evaluating the effects of such protection is an important part of managing the CMR network in Australian waters. To read more and to watch a short video to hear Dr Neville Barrett and Professor Stefan Williams explain the research and the AUV further click here.

Useful Links

The AUV Facility Publication Report. If you have any questions regarding the data, or corrections, or would like to add a publication or presentation that uses IMOS data please contact the IMOS office via email: publication(at)emii.org.au.

Contacts:

Prof. Stefan Williams

Partners:

University of Sydney – Australian Centre for Field Robotics

Your access to the IMOS AUV data discovery and exploration is through the Australian Ocean Data Network (AODN) Portal.