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  • Chris Malzone

Something In The Water

As a child sitting on my Dad’s fishing boat, I stared at the water and pondered what was lurking below. Occasionally, the fire of my curiosity would be stoked as a shark would snap a fish off our lines or dolphins would cruise by to check us out. Questions would pop up — How do these things move? Where are the fish? What else may be down there? While it took 25 years, my questions finally started to find answers as I took a position as a field engineer for RESON, Inc back in 1998. “Back then”, shallow water multibeam sonars were relatively new and were designed to provide a swath of bathymetric soundings of the seafloor over a 90 to 150 degree sector. By 2000, Doug Lockhart with survey company called Pelagos came up with the idea to get “Snippets” of backscatter information from the seafloor which we could use to characterize the seafloor itself (eg sand vs rock, etc). While these advancements in the technology have provided significant leaps in the way we look at the seafloor, they still left me wondering “Whats in the water?”. Right around 2001, RESON got a project to develop a system to detect combat divers. The problem was that the current sonar systems were not designed to do anything but transmit range and angle data to a data logging system. This application required us to log the raw beamformed information and look for “something in the water” column itself. This presented a bit of a challenge for the engineers. As part of a solution, Jon Marcus (fellow InOceans member) developed SnapSaver… a revolutionary software tool that interfaced with the beamformer in the sonar system to log “snap shots” of raw beamformed sonar data. From there, an algorithm developed by a team led by Eric Maillard’s (another InOceans member) would look for objects in the water column and then track them. After several tests in Ventura Harbor… we had our “Ah ha” moment. If we can track divers what else can we find in the water. BUT… there was a HUGE problem; when Snapsaver was running, it completely consumed the sonar processor. Depending on your range setting, you would be lucky to get one “Snapshot” every 5 to 10 seconds. And forget about trying to log bathymetry… the technology was just too limited at the time (water column data has enormous data rates… Gigabytes per minute). In 2002, I asked the question… is there any way to rig the system to get around this limitation… WAIT… what if we use two processors sync’d together? We tested, it worked and for the first time we were able to log different types of information from a sonar simultaneously; bathymetry, snippets, water column! This truly gave us a feeling for the value of logging multivariant data. Following that initial discovery, presentations were given and the fisheries folks eyes lit up. The current methodology utilized split beam echosounders that could only acquire data directly underneath the vessel. It was suspected that many species would scatter (avoidance behavior) but without any means to look beyond the path of the ship, this was a still huge unknown. This widespread interest led to development to focus on technologies that would allow multivariant data sets regardless of data rates. By the mid-2000’s, not just RESON but Kongsberg was on board with such technologies and the applications quickly grew. Now in 2019, we’ve not only gained a much deeper understanding of fish schools but have tracked everything from combat divers to marine mammals, mapped eel grass & kelp, detected leaks from pipelines, imaged plumes from hydrothermal vents and recently it was discovered by John Hughes Clark, UNH that we can map oceanographic structures such as internal waves. So much more understanding from such a major progression in technology. The question lies… what is next? For InOceans, we’ve taken to this development a solution for detecting derelict fishing nets. While you can read more about the project here: http://inoceansgroup.org/portfolio/ , in short… derelict fishing nets pose a significant threat to not only all marine life (well… the ones we can see with our eyes) but also to ocean going human activities including missions involving underwater robotics, submarines and ships themselves. For Ocean Pollution, we currently only see the tip of the iceberg of this problem. Current solutions are primarily focused on what’s on the surface but, like an iceberg, the true threat lies beneath the surface for there is truly “something in the water” that doesn’t belong there and InOceans knows how to find it. I look forward to any insights you may have on this topic and more importantly, any support you can provide to help us get this solution out there! – cmm

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