Anyone who wants to pursue research on the ocean needs high-tech equipment. Accordingly, underwater vehicles that autonomously glide through the ocean are equipped with a wide range of sensors. Thousands of buoys drift through the ocean. Plus, there are diving robots with cameras and sonar systems, remotely piloted from on board research vessels; and rovers, which survey the seafloor on tyres or caterpillar treads. Despite this cutting-edge arsenal, our understanding of the ocean, deep sea and coasts remains incomplete. In order to assess how the ocean, life within it, and biological, chemical and physical processes are changing in step with climate change and the numerous strains accompanying it, we will need to explore and survey substantially larger ocean regions in the years to come.
Doing so will require cutting-edge technologies and close collaboration. The three largest marine research institutes in the Helmholtz Association – the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon, and the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel – have now joined forces in the Helmholtz infrastructure MUSE, through which they will jointly develop new research equipment and procedures over the next seven years. MUSE, which stands for Marine Umweltrobotik und -Sensorik für nachhaltige Erforschung (roughly translates to marine environmental robotics and sensors for sustainable exploration) and focuses on the preservation and management of our planet’s coasts, seas and polar regions, will officially start with a kick-off meeting from 23 to 25 May at the AWI in Bremerhaven. Major priorities will include making further strides in sensor technologies, associated software, and the integration of artificial intelligence to help gauge the effectiveness of marine protection measures. “There are experts on these areas at each of the three institutes. Now we’re bringing them together in the first infrastructure project of its kind,” says MUSE Coordinator Martina Löbl from the AWI.
Given that the three institutes focus on different geographic areas, the systems they have developed are quite diverse. Hereon contributes its expertise in coastal research, AWI focuses on the ice-covered polar regions, GEOMAR on the blue ocean. “At the same time, there are a range of parameters that are important to all three institutes and their partners – and which will be further developed within an international community through the Global Ocean Observing System,” says Löbl. “Of course, in order for this to work, it has to be possible to easily connect measuring systems to our three institutes’ various underwater vehicles. Consequently, part of the project involves working on a plug-and-play system of sorts.”