Monday, 11 October 2010

Listen to the Deep Ocean - live!

Last year, we reported on research published in Nature that showed how marine biologists were working hand-in-hand with physicists to use bio-acoustics technology for the dual purpose of monitoring marine live, and searching for neutrinos.

The recently launched Listening to the Deep Ocean Environment (LIDO) website takes this collaborative approach one step further. Michel André, a bioacoustician at the Technical University of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, and his colleagues, have spent the past 10 years placing hydrophones on the seabed, on existing research platforms that monitor earthquakes, tsunamis and detect neutrino particles from space.

They are studying sub-sea noise so that researchers can better understand the effects of human activity on whales and dolphins. But what's really extraordinary about their work is that they're allowing us to tune in. The LIDO website has links to live audio feeds from eleven hydrophones located in European waters, and North American waters.

André, quoted in the New Scientist, notes: "the system is powered from the shore, and streams audio data to a server where the signals are analysed and published directly on the internet."

With more hydrophones in the network the new system could reveal the effects of noise pollution on whales. Hydrophones can pick up sounds from baleen whales hundreds of kilometres away, so installations in different places could be used to triangulate an animal's position and track its course. It should therefore be possible to determine if animals change course in response to bursts of noise, or alter their preferred routes because of new sources of noise like shipping routes or harbours.

"It's the first time we have been able to monitor acoustic events on a large temporal and spatial scale," André says

An algorithm developed by André's laboratory filters the different frequencies in the signal to identify specific sounds, including the songs of 26 species of whales and dolphins, and noise from human activities such as shipping, wind farms, oil and gas drilling, and seismic testing.

Roger Gentry, an adviser for the E&P Sound and Marine Life Joint Industry Programme, comments that, "[Michel] André deserves a lot of credit for thinking in broad terms and using modern technology to make the oceans and marine mammals more familiar and accessible to us all."

André is a previous Rolex award-winner, acknowledged for his work designing a system to protect whales from collisions with ships:


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