Ocean- Exploration and Exploitation

The ocean constitutes one of the primary resources of food, employment, and economic revenue and is an immense source of virtually untapped living and non-living resources and sustainable energy. The ocean is also a “source of solutions for climate change mitigation and many dimensions of a sustainable ocean economy.” However, the ocean remains largely unknown and, consequently, unexploited. Considerable work remains to have a synoptic view and forecast the open sea’s capacity and the deep oceans over extended areas of interest to understand its impact on the climate better and exploit the resources available safely and sustainably. This requires the development of a new breed of methods and tools for ocean modelling, exploration, and exploitation and establishing strong cooperative links between universities, research institutes, commercial companies, and stakeholders to meet the above goals. It is against this backdrop of ideas that in this thematic line we aim to merge scientific knowledge and technological developments to answer the various challenges of Ocean Modelling, Exploration, and Sustainable Exploitation and take hold of the new research and business opportunities that these activities bring along

The following topics are at the core of the activities carried out in the OCEANS Thematic Line:

i) ocean modelling to simulate and forecast physical and biogeochemical tridimensional processes in coastal and open waters at different scales, as well as estuaries and watersheds, using an integrated modelling philosophy, ii) acoustic remote sensing as a tool to monitor the state of the ocean, including the mapping and measurement of anthropogenic noise noise and evaluate its impact on marine life and biodiversity,
iii) cooperative marine/aerial robotics networked via multimodal wireless communication systems consisting of hybrid acoustic and optical systems to afford scientific and commercial end-users the tools required to sample the ocean adaptively, inspect critical offshore structures for ocean farming and energy harvesting, map vast extensions of the deep ocean, monitor marine protected areas, and secure harbor installations,
iv) deployment of specialized
sensor networks to better understand migratory routes and movements of marine megafauna in selected areas using bio-tagging devices, and
v) Ocean Literacy actions in the scope of the national program “Blue School”, promoted under the Minister of the Sea. 

Impacton Public Policies 

At a national level, the TL addresses directly the challenges set forth in the 2013-2020 National Strategy for the Sea (still undergoing public discussion), which advances a work program rooted in science and technology, aimed at meeting the challenges afforded by the need to explore and exploit in a sustainable manner the vast areas covered by the territorial seas, including the new dimension that will arise from the approval of the extension of the continental platform beyond the 200 nautical miles. The program addresses specific issues and sets technological challenges related to deep sea exploration and exploitation, namely the development and operation of robotic and monitoring systems as well as underwater observatories at a national scale. It addresses also the following strategic challenges which constitute priorities for the public policies in Portugal, as embodied in the recently available national Recovery and Resilience Plan: A Climate change: promoting the energy transition and the circular economy, C Climate change: valuing the territory – sea, and E – Digital Society, namely the digitalization of the Ocean

At a European level, the work pursued has been greatly inspired by the objectives set forth in the Blue Growth Strategy adopted by the Commission in 2012, in the context of the Horizon 2020 program, as a means to support “sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole”. One of the foci of Blue Growth is the development of advanced systems for ocean modelling and exploration with a view to challenging scientific, commercial, and societal applications. 

The tight link between the R&D work carried out at LARSyS and applications that address commercial and societal needs, in line with the strategic challenges mentioned above, is clearly visible in the following representative projects that bring together commercial partners, external research institutions, and governance bodies: 

  • MEDUSA DEEP SEA, EEA Grants, 2015-2017 – Development of an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) for marine habitat mapping, capable of operating down to 3000m water depth.
  • OCEANTECH, ANI/PT2020, 2018-2021- Development of a hybrid ROV/AUV vehicle and hybrid acoustic/optical communication systems for the automatic inspection of offshore infrastructures (wind and wave energy farms and fish farms).
  • EMSO-PT, FCT, 2017-2021 – European Multidisciplinary Seafloor Observatory Portugal, a research infrastructure selected for the Portuguese Roadmap of Research Infrastructures that brings together 14 partners in charge of developing technological systems to support the Portuguese nodes of the European initiative EMSO.
  • WIMUST, EU H2020-ICT-2014-1, 2015-2018 – Development of Widely Scalable Mobile Underwater Sonar Technology for automated high resolution seismic surveys using cooperative marine robots.
  • SEAOX, FCT, 2016-2020 – Using the properties of sound propagation in ocean water as a proxy of the amount of oxygen bubbles to monitor the photosynthetic production of marine plants.
  • +ATLANTIC, PT/CMU Initiative, FCT, 2016-2020 – Methods for the inspection and maintenance of subsea systems; integrated ocean observing systems merging in-situ and remote sensing data with high resolution 3D forecast models.
  • MyCoast, INTERREG Atlantic Area Programme EAPA_285/2016, 2017-2021- Coordinated Atlantic Coastal Operational Oceanographic Observatory.
  • iFADO, INTERREG Atlantic Area programme EAPA_165/2016, 2017-2022, Innovation in the Framework of the Atlantic Deep Ocean – Creation of marine services at regional and subregional scales using the EU Atlantic Waters as a case study.
  • INTERTAGUA, MAC-INTERREG, 2020-2022 – Development of sensor networks using bio-tagging devices to better understand the migratory routes and movements of marine megafauna in the Macaronesian biogeographic region.
  • LARGCALE, FCT & PIDDAC, 2019-2021 – Usage of Augmented Reality (AR) in portraying the remote aquatic data to wider audiences.

Vision of theFuture 

In the scope of this TL, future work will focus on enhancing the methods and tools available for Ocean Modelling and Simulation and Robotics-Based Ocean Observation Tools, hand in hand with dissemination and Ocean Literacy actions, in cooperation with national and international partners, and demonstrate their efficacy in several applications with visible scientific, commercial, and societal impact. The work will continue to be inspired by and address the objectives outlined in the scope of the 2013-2020 National Strategy for the Sea, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, and the goals envisioned under Pillar 2 of the future Horizon Europe programme, which includes: Digital; Climate and Energy; Natural Resources and Environment. According to current recommendations of the United Nations on its World Ocean Assessment II (under revision, final version due in December 2020) the protection of the ocean environment, the impact on marine life and the maintenance or increasing of ocean biodiversity should not be subdued by any means to ocean exploration or exploitation. This is a commitment that TL Oceans and partners are firmly endorsing in the current and future development of vehicles, platforms, techniques, models and ocean sampling strategies. 

Networked autonomous systems for sustained presence at sea. We are currently witnessing a dramatic paradigm shift in what concerns unmanned systems’ deployment and operation of at sea. This trend is particularly visible in civil applications that require networked autonomous systems to self-organize and operate collectively for extended periods (months or even years), without the close supervision of human operators, and adapt their organization and monitoring strategies in response to on-line perceived events, yielding truly sustained presence at sea. We cite as examples: a) deployment and operation of networked autonomous systems for the inspection of critical infrastructures such as offshore wave and wind energy facilities, b) automatic deployment of, servicing, and data retrieval from underwater benthic stations and groups of benthic landers, as well as and inspection / monitoring of the environment in the neighborhood of the structures deployed, c) automatic deployment and cooperative operation of underwater networks equipped with passive acoustic sensors for the detection of intrusions in protected areas, and d) operation of large groups of autonomous underwater vehicles equipped with acoustic sensor suites to fully automate geophysical and geotechnical seismic surveying operations, with far reaching implications on the surveying of selected regions for the commissioning and decommissioning of underwater infrastructures and seabed mineral/hydrocarbon reservoir exploration. The goals mentioned above will require advanced technological systems standing in sharp contrast with currently available networked autonomous systems that require intensive human operators/systems interaction for the execution of challenging missions. This calls for the development of systems that will afford a large number of underwater, surface, and air assets working in cooperation the capability to: i) exchange information among themselves using advanced acoustic and optical communication networks, the latter being used for communications at short ranges, ii) make decisions collectively (based on in-situ acquired data) regarding motion planning and sharing of complementary resources, and iii) harvest energy from the environment. Furthermore, some of the systems developed should be able to: i) perform long duration bottom-resting operations; ii) be deployed from manned or unmanned vehicles; iii) form computational clusters capable of high performance computing; and iv) perform unmanned-manned teaming. This calls for the intensification of R&D efforts on so-called sustained autonomy and presence at sea, a subject that hitherto has only been tackled in a very small number of international projects. 

Future challenges will also include the issue of scalability with respect to the number of vehicles. This is because current multi-vehicle coordination and control frameworks are not scalable, as they require intense wireless data exchanges between vehicles and other assets that quickly exhaust the capacity of the transmission medium as their number grows. Therefore, more parsimonious coordination approaches are needed, as well as multimodal cognitive communication systems (acoustic/optical) that can efficiently exploit the topology and environment to increase the data throughput. Selected topics will be pursued in the scope of ongoing projects that will continue past 2020, and others that will be started in 2021 (e.g. RAMONES Radioactivity Monitoring in Ocean Ecosystems using Cooperative Marine Robots, FETPROACT-EIC-08-2020, 2021-2024; ASTRIIS – Atlantic Sustainability Through Remote In-Situ Integrated Solutions, ANI/PT2020), aligned with Challenges A and C. 

Ocean Modelling and Simulation Tools. Over the next years, the TL will pursue its long-term objective, namely, the development and consolidation of observation and modelling tools to support the exploration and exploitation of oceans and sea. Within this main objective, priorities will be set according to funding opportunities and the consortia that will be formed to address those calls. The major tasks for this TA are expected to provide services to marine stakeholders in the fields/activities of operational oceanography, aquaculture and marine robotics. 

Among the ongoing/starting projects, ASTRIIS and iFADO, as well as CE2COAST and FORCOAST funded by JPI and H2020 respectively, and PRECISAQUA (funded by EEA Grants) will play a major role due to their national and international dimension and consequent disciplinary integrative capacity. The amassed funding in this TA will be applied to support fundamental research, essential for long-term sustainability and interdisciplinary activities in consortia, where major inputs in starting projects from other teams rely on products with higher TRL’s. This proposed R&D effort is aligned with Challenges C and E. 

Integrated modelling, sensor allocation, and data acquisition for adaptiveocean monitoring – Citizens´s science. Spawned by the availability of advanced sensor suites, networked marine robots, and embedded computational systems, there is considerable potential for the development of sophisticated systems for maritime surveillance to effectively integrate in a seamless manner the dif erent links in the chain of modelling, planning, and monitoring. Modelling allows for the forecasting of the evolution of a number of variables or events that are key to triggering actions aimed at counteracting security threats or mitigating the environmental impact of certain phenomena (such as pollutant spills). Based on the forecasts, assets that include autonomous systems equipped with appropriate sensor suites are deployed in such a way as to maximize the information available to correct the information predicted by the models (mission planning phase for optimal sensor allocation). Finally, after the assets have been deployed at the planned sites or made to maneuver along optimal routes, new sensor data are acquired that will in turn feed the prediction models used. In spite of tremendous progress done in the above areas separately, challenging R&D work must still be done to bring them together under an overarching effort. Specialized sensor networks based on bio-tagging devices will also play a key role in future developments, backed by work in the areas of citizen´s science and ocean literacy in cooperation with the Ministry of the Sea (Blue School Program) and Ciência Viva. On-going and future projects, including those mentioned in areas 1 and 2 above will address these topics, and thus Challenges A, C, and E.

Research Groups that contribute to the Thematic Line:

Dynamical Systems and Ocean Robotics (DSORg-ISR)
Signal and Image Processing (SIPg-ISR)
Computer and Vision Laboratory (Vislab-ISR)
Marine, Environment & Technology Center (MARETEC)
Interactive Technologies Institute (ITI)
Laboratory of Technology Policy and Management (LTPM-IN+)