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07.06.2012 22:00 Age: 6 yrs
Category: IMOS, AUV, AATAMS, AODN, SRS, Argo, SOOP, ANFOG

IMOS recognises youth on World Oceans Day 2012

More than 100 postgraduate students around Australia are using IMOS data streams in their research projects.


An Autonomous Underwater Vehicle
Photo Credit: Kim Brooks, AIMS.

In an IMOS media release today, Dr Ian Poiner, the independent chair of the Integrated Marine Observing System Advisory Board, recognises that Australian marine science suffers from acute shortages of skilled scientists and technologists.

“Our oceans need chemists, economists, engineers, geographers, mathematicians, microbiologists, modellers, physicists, statisticians and taxonomists. Unless we do something about this, we will not be able to get the full benefits from our vast marine estate,” says Dr Ian Poiner of Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS).

Dr Poiner was speaking today [8 June 2012] to recognise the critical importance of Australia’s young marine researchers for World Oceans Day. The 2012 theme is Youth: the Next Wave for Change.

“As our population increases, and coastal and offshore development continues to expand, efficient utilisation and wise management of our marine estate is our greatest challenge and critical to the national interest,” says Dr Poiner.

Australia’s marine industries such as energy, tourism, shipping, and fishing contribute close to $45 billion per year to Australia. The sector is one of the most rapidly growing areas of the Australian economy.

Dr Poiner says significant knowledge gaps exist—especially in the Southern Ocean, northern Australia, and coastal areas surrounding Australia. Observing the Southern Ocean is critical for understanding climate. Understanding northern waters will be critical for national energy resources, and researching coastal areas is critical for managing future development.

Dr Poiner says monitoring “the growing and cumulative pressures on our marine estate” is one of the most essential activities that Australian science can do to sustain national resources.

“Our greatest challenge is getting the economic benefits whilst maintaining and conserving our marine ecosystem health and services.

“Our current knowledge base is poor and inadequate—at best, we have documented 20 per cent of Australia’s biodiversity,” Dr Poiner says.

The Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS), based at the University of Tasmania, is the shining light for the future rigour of Australia’s marine science. IMOS brings together 10 Australian universities and research agencies working in marine and climate science, funding them to deploy ocean observing equipment.

The ever-growing national data portal gives students and marine and climate scientists access to thousands of data streams collected by IMOS.

“IMOS is providing baselines critical to ongoing ocean management and to assess damage from future events such as oil spills, pollution, or climate change,” says Dr Poiner.

At least 100 PhD students from across Australia are already using the portal for their research work.

“Without the IMOS data streams there would be very little with which to compare my research models, especially on the continental shelf or the subsurface ocean,” says Helen Macdonald, PhD student at the University of New South Wales.

Helen is modelling eddies that formed in the Tasman Sea in 2008 and 2009. She uses data available from IMOS, such as water temperature, salinity, and water current speed and direction to compare to the output of her model. Helen’s research will help scientists understand how eddies form—some up to several 100 kilometres in diameter—and how they affect regional marine ecosystems.

Daniel Steinberg, a PhD student at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney, is feeding data back into the IMOS knowledge base.

He is developing image-clustering techniques that will mean underwater robotic technology, such as the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), can better recognise its environment.

“If a robot can recognise its environment, it can navigate it more accurately,” says Daniel.

“Basically, our AUV collects tens of thousands of images of the seafloor each time it dives and does one survey. A hard disk full of such images entails months of work for biologists who have to hand‑classify each image into various habitat types such as reef, sand and sea grass.”

He says his work will help biologists with the speed and accuracy of their marine research by removing the potential of human error through hand-labelling images, and by batching more quickly those images that contain the information the scientist needs.

Kate Lee, a PhD student at Macquarie University, uses IMOS data to research marine protected areas for the conservation of wobbegong sharks and eastern blue gropers. She says the IMOS portal removes the costly and time-consuming need to call oceanographers individually to collect environmental data.