Ships of Opportunity


The Ships of Opportunity facility utilises a combination of volunteer commercial and research vessels to collect measurements related to physical, chemical and biological oceanography and ecology. As chartered research vessels are expensive and time consuming, the use of volunteer vessels as well as oceanographic samplers while underway is a central, cost-effective component of the facility. Fitted with various sampling instrumentation along fixed pre-established transects, when transiting between regions or when doing surveys. For example shipping routes undertaken by merchant vessels or ferries allows for the collection of diverse variables to create a time-series along their shipping routes while undertaking their regular business.

The Ships of Opportunity facility builds on similar pre-existing Australian programs by expanding to collect a wider variety of data and increasing the number of vessels fitted with sampling equipment.  Target regions for the facility include the boundary current systems off Eastern and Western Australia, the Southern and Indian Oceans, the shelf seas across northern Australia and the Great Barrier Reef and the Tasman Sea. Operation of the facility is spread between several sub-facilities;


  • Expendable Bathythermograph
  • Biogeochemical Sensors
  • Australian Plankton Survey
  • Sensors on Tropical Research Vessels
  • Sea Surface Temperature Sensors for Australian Vessels
  • Research Vessels Real-Time Air-Sea Fluxes
  • Bio-Acoustic
  • Sensors on Temperate Merchant Vessels

Instrumentation and Data

The ships of opportunity vessels are fitted with a variety of sampling instruments to collect data along; fixed pre-established transects, when transiting between regions or when doing surveys. The IMOS SOOP program uses ferries, tankers, and supply ships on repeating lines, as well as vessels with broader coverage such as fishing, research and survey vessels.

Instruments include:

  • The expendable bathythermograph (XBT) to collect temperature profiles of the oceans surrounding Australia using high-resolution repeat lines samples collected by merchant ships to help characterise the mean and time-varying properties of the major ocean currents around Australia.
  • Biogeochemical sensors are used to collect high quality partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) and fugacity of carbon dioxide (fCO2) measured in surface seawaters, to track the size and variability of the ocean carbon sink in Australian regional seas and the Southern Ocean
  • Continuous Plankton Recorder which collects underway samples of plankton, by trapping them on a spool of silk as it is towed through the water. The samples are then analysed to give information on the biodiversity and distribution of different species of phytoplankton and zooplankton.
  • A suite of underway measurements utilising temperature, salinity, chlorophyll and turbidity sensors to record temperature, salinity, turbidity and chlorophyll fitted to tropical Research vessels (AIMS) and some merchant vessels (Spirit of Tasmania).
  • Hull contact sea surface temperature (SST) sensors on a broad range of platforms to deliver high quality in situ near real time SST observations.
  • Meteorological and surface ocean sensors to collect data of wind, air and sea temperature, humidity, pressure, precipitation and long- and short-wave radiation to estimate bulk flux measurements of heat, mass and momentum.
  • Echosounders at single and multiple frequencies on research vessels and large fishing and survey vessels to estimate mid-trophic level organism distribution and abundance around the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) shelf, slope and oceanic environments.