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Sensors for Autonomous Ocean Observations

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Assessments of the state of the oceans were initially only possible by use of ships for collecting samples with concurrent or later analysis; this approach provides limited spatial and temporal resolution and is both expensive and time consuming. The development of ocean observing satellites heralded a new ...

Assessments of the state of the oceans were initially only possible by use of ships for collecting samples with concurrent or later analysis; this approach provides limited spatial and temporal resolution and is both expensive and time consuming. The development of ocean observing satellites heralded a new era in oceanographic research, allowing us to observe large areas of the worlds’ oceans, and capture and quantify key processes of primary production and oceanic CO2 uptake through air-sea exchange. However, our understanding of critical interactions is still poor. For example, how nutrient and carbon rich, but often contaminated coastal zones, mix with the oligotrophic open ocean, or the controlling role that physical oceanography plays through lateral mixing, upwelling, eddies and vertical turbulence, are poorly constrained. Unfortunately, the oceans have become an important sink of anthropogenically released nutrients, metals and other pollutants, and are increasingly facing conflicting user requirements (e.g., fisheries and offshore oil exploitation). We therefore need a more thorough understanding of ocean carbon chemistry, and the distributions and fluxes of nutrients, trace elements and contaminants in our oceans in order to assess changes over time as a result of anthropogenic inputs and climate change.

The widespread application of low cost biogeochemical sensors on marine platforms, including moorings, gliders and other autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) represents a leap forward in our ability to investigate these dynamic environments over long time scales and at a finer spatial resolution than has previously been possible. Such sensors can better capture nutrient and trace element distributions compared with ship-based sampling, and allow rapid assessment of changing physical and chemical properties in our oceans, across fronts and eddies, or caused by vertical turbulent mixing. In addition, the evolving field of biosensor technology is extending the existing repertoire of sensors by biosensor technologies that can specifically monitor anthropogenic pollutants.

The production of low cost, miniaturized sensors to improve our assessment of the anthropogenic perturbations to the oceans, and the role of the oceans in anthropogenic carbon uptake, will be critical for the management of the health and resources of the ocean. In addition to these global issues, the monitoring of offshore carbon capture and storage reservoir performance, hydrocarbon exploitation decommissioning activities and other offshore operations is becoming increasingly important, to reassure the public that operations are done safely with no environmental damage.

Over the last ten years we have seen an increase in funding to develop in situ sensor technology from both national and international research organizations and more recently industrial corporations. This research topic aims to highlight the cutting edge technologies that are in development and moving towards commercial exploitation. Submissions are considered from any field of marine chemical- and bio-sensor technology, from molecular techniques to optical and wet chemistry, and including scientific/engineering applications of data generated from their use.


Keywords: Chemical sensors, biological sensors, autonomous platforms, ocean biogeochemistry, blue growth


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