17 June 2019

Current Affairs

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    Our undersea robots silently monitor our climate and reveal our ocean's secrets.

    Current Affairs

    Our silent fleet of underwater robots is slowly revealing the ocean’s secrets hundreds of metres below the surface.

    At UEA, we all play our part in finding solutions to the issues that matter. Oceanographers. Acousticians. Marine biochemists. And many more. We work together across different fields to monitor and tackle climate change.

    Our fleet of SeaGlider undersea robots gathers all kinds of data from ocean currents and seawater temperature to whale noises and wind patterns. They monitor fundamental marine processes such as waves and eddies, so our students and colleagues can keep a close eye on the interaction between the sea, ice and atmosphere that determines the variability of our climate around the world.

    Communicating by satellite and controlled remotely thousands of miles away, our robots are transforming our understanding of the oceans. They monitor how seas are changing. They measure the impact of the wind, sun and rain. And they collect data about the water’s salinity, temperature and oxygen levels.

    Professor Karen Heywood uses the raw data to show how swirling ocean eddies are transporting warm water to the Antarctic ice sheets, causing them to melt and sea levels to rise. The polar oceans are one of the least understood environments on our planet. But they are the most sensitive to climate change.

    Our marine research paints underwater pictures with sound. By listening to underwater sounds, we can monitor storms, measure sea-surface wind speeds, pick-up human activity and record the sounds of fishes and whales. The vital information that we gather in remote areas, helps us to improve our climate change models.

    Our underwater robots have discovered an area of lifeless water the size of Scotland in the Gulf of Oman where almost no oxygen is left. Exploring areas of water that were previously inaccessible because of pirates and geopolitical tensions, they found a ‘dead zone’ that was much bigger than expected.

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    UEA perspectives

    “As an acoustician, it’s fascinating to listen to underwater life such as long-finned pilot whales in the North Atlantic, but also hear the echoes of what is happening in the skies above.” – Pierre Cauchy, Researcher

    “Our research shows that the situation is worse than feared. The dead zone is vast and growing. The ocean is suffocating and fish and marine plants can’t survive there. It’s a real environmental problem with dire consequences for humans too who rely on the oceans for food and employment.” - Dr Bastien Queste

    Professor Karen Heywood’s research into polar ocean processes led to her being awarded the Challenger Medal by the Challenger Society for Marine Science.