Applied Research and Development: Ocean Observing Systems

Applied Research and Development: Ocean Observing Systems

The goal of all ocean observing systems is to improve access to data and information to improve decision-making by stakeholders with interest in:

  • the impact of the marine and ocean sector on global climate change
  • sustainable use
  • better understanding of marine resources

These resources include fisheries, marine plants and offshore hydrocarbons, security and defense, meteorology, oceanography, marine transport, and improved information on the risk of natural disasters such as tsunamis and hurricanes. The primary drivers of OOS are policy (regulation, sustainable development), science (knowledge) and operations (safety, efficiency).

Technologies to gather ocean data are many and varied. From surface buoys and cabled seabed networks, to satellite and airborne remote sensing, to ship borne sensors and surveys, a flood of data is gathered each day. Converting this data into useful information is a key goal of any ocean observing system.

The School of Ocean Technology is focusing on the development and implementation of open architecture ocean observing systems using technologies that conform to international standards for interoperability and best serve the stakeholder community.

SmartBay - Placentia Bay

The vision of SmartBay is "to provide simple access by all stakeholders to data and information in support of effective management and sustainable development of coastal ocean areas and the safety and security of life at sea". Accordingly, SmartBay has been implemented as a user-driven ocean observing system, effectively serving the information needs of the users of Placentia Bay in support of better decision-making.

The applications of SmartBay are varied, ranging from:

  • safety
  • marine efficiency
  • vessel operations management
  • environmental protection

Initially supported by a $2 million contribution under Canada's Oceans Action Plan (OAP), SmartBay has been ‘alive' for about three years and in that time has become an integral part of the Placentia Bay seascape. SmartBay infrastructure includes a 3-metre met/ocean discus buoy near the mouth of the bay providing critical data to support weather and sea state forecasts; a customized coastal buoy off Come by Chance Point provides met/ocean as well as water quality information for this high traffic area.‌

A third coastal buoy, currently situated near Rushoon on the western side of the bay, provides meteorological and water quality information for that area. A fourth buoy, situated at the pilot boarding station just south of Red Island Shoal is used daily by vessels, pilots, fishers and traffic management as a decision-making tool.

In addition, the Marine Institute is planning to acquire two additional buoys to enhance the robustness of the SmartBay system and to assist it in moving towards full operational status.  The data from the buoy network is used to support four regional forecasts and four site-specific forecasts daily, all customized to Placentia Bay.

The buoy locations, near-real time data feeds and custom forecasts are readily accessible to all via the SmartBay portal. From a user access perspective, SmartBay buoy data averages about 230 hits/day  - just under 7000 hits/month, a significant amount of use for such a defined geographic location and maritime community.

Newfoundland Transshipment tug operations, Placentia Bay Traffic Centre, Atlantic Pilotage Authority and the fishing community are regular users of SmartBay. Near real-time SmartBay met/ocean data is used routinely to help determine when weather and sea-state conditions dictate the necessity to close the Port of Come by Chance to tanker traffic.

Furthermore SmartBay has played a lead role in demonstrating to fishermen and the oil industry the value of Automatic Identification System (AIS) technology to enhance situational awareness and hence improve safety and operational coordination between tankers and fishing vessels.

From a user perspective operational support for SmartBay could have significant direct and indirect benefit to industry users of Placentia Bay and the population of the region as a whole.

Examples include:

  • Improved operational efficiency - real time feed of met/ocean conditions and custom forecasting allows for better planning of vessel movements, pilot scheduling and maintenance
  • Improved emergency planning and response - better information means better operational decisions minimizing the potential of an incident and should such occur it improves response time and first-action decisions thereby lessening the impact on lives, property, or the environment
  • Improved situational awareness for all operating in and around Placentia Bay including users, service providers, regulators, and residents. Improved awareness reduces the potential of user conflict and ultimately the possibility of an incident such as between a tanker and a fishing vessel

The majority of salmonid aquaculture activity in Newfoundland and Labrador is concentrated on the south coast in the Fortune Bay/Coast of Bays region. The future of aquaculture in the province is largely dependent on the commercial success of these "frontier" operations.

Aquaculture is a science-based industry and to be successful requires an understanding of the dynamic biophysical conditions influencing a farm site. This includes long-term information about all aspects of the ocean environment, such as water currents and temperatures, tidal and wave patterns, weather conditions and seabed information and their potential impact on farm success as well as dynamic day to day conditions which may only be ‘hiccups' in the big picture but can dramatically impact an success or failure of an aquaculture operation.

Although the region offers a near-optimal environment for the development of aquaculture; a general lack of informational infrastructure makes occasional ‘surprise' volatile conditions troublesome and potentially disastrous for the industry.  Extreme temperature fluctuations and associated conditions such as low dissolved oxygen, have been documented to cause problems for fish farmers.

The issue is manageable however mitigation strategies to deal with these problems can only be effective when managers have timely access to information on the physical environment.

SOT in partnership with the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association (NAIA) is working on an initiative that will demonstrate to the aquaculture operators and regulators the value of real time information to day to day operations. Through SmartBay - Fortune Bay, operators will be provided with access to real-time and historical information on environmental conditions which will allow better informed operators to make better decisions, increasing the production, sustainability, and global competitiveness of the sector.

Furthermore, this technologically advanced approach to farming is an important element in attracting new investment to the region.

Regional Ocean Monitoring and Applications Network (ROMAN)

The Newfoundland and Labrador oil and gas reserves and its growing offshore industry is immersed in one of the harshest, most complex and prolific marine environments in the world. The existing Grand Banks oil production facilities; Terra Nova, White Rose and Hibernia, are located on the outer edge of the Grand Banks, roughly 180 NM east of the Avalon Peninsula.

The three facilities together form what amounts to an isolated community, a community with significant growth potential as new developments are announced. Site-specific meteorological and oceanographic data is judiciously collected at each of the production sites however, to date no substantial effort has been made to bring this data together as a foundation to support the development of a meso-scale regional model for the area.

SOT, in cooperation with AMEC Earth and Environmental, is building an initiative that will see the collective efforts of the various Grand Banks operators consolidated into a single meso-scaled meteorological/oceanographic information network, enhancing the operational information needs of all operators.

The Real-Time Oceanographic Monitoring and  Assimilation Network (ROMAN) is about bringing together those individually held pieces of met/ocean data combined with deployment of new regional observation network to create a more holistic picture of the offshore meteorological and oceanographic operating environment.

Marine Electronic Highway (MEH)

SOT is working with the World Bank and International Maritime Organization (IMO) to develop high level architecture for a global marine electronic highway. Maritime safety and environmental protection are of growing importance in many of the world's oceans due to increased shipping, fishing and ocean energy development.

In recent years, there has been a dramatic improvement in the data and information available to mariners, and the technologies necessary to access this data and information in real time. It is well documented that increased access to real time data and information leads to enhanced safety of navigation and increased operational efficiency.

The term ‘marine electronic highway' is now widely used in certain circles to describe the information network needed to facilitate real time access to data and information by mariners, resource managers and regulators. The function of the marine electronic highway is to enable real time access to data and information by a broad base of expert and non-expert users from all walks of the maritime community.

In order to be effective, a marine electronic highway must be based on common standards, be widely accessible, simple to use and cost-effective. The marine electronic highway concept is being demonstrated in the Straits of Malacca, and is increasingly being considered and applied in other areas such as the Western Indian Ocean, Gulf of Honduras and Straits of Sicily.

While it is certainly true that each seaway or region, and therefore each regional MEH initiative will have its own priorities, it is also true that these initiatives should be implemented around a common framework to ensure that mariners, who are by nature global creatures, will recognize common features and functionality from one region to another as they travel the waters of the world.

Operational Oceanography

SOT is working with DFO, ACOA, Memorial University and private industry to develop the framework for an operational oceanography program for Newfoundland and Labrador waters. Newfoundland and Labrador in particular, and Atlantic Canada in general, represent one of the harshest marine environments in the world.

This region is also characterized by a strong social and economic dependence on the ocean. The result is a very real need for better understanding of the ocean environment and resources. Events leading up to the collapse of the northern cod stocks in 1992 demonstrate the consequences of having too little data and information to manage a resource sustainably.

The sinking of the Ocean Ranger in 1982 and the fishing vessel Andrea Gail in 1991 highlight the need for better understanding and forecasting of winter storms and rogue waves. Accurate daily forecasts of the movement of icebergs and pack ice on Grand Bank during winter months can have significant implications for human safety and the bottom line of offshore operations.

Less catastrophic, but equally important are long-term ‘hindcasts' to better understand trends and the potential impacts of climate change on the Atlantic region. These needs underscore the importance of operational oceanography to the socio-economic fabric of Newfoundland and Labrador.