Oceanographic Monitoring System


Challenge

Each and every one of us depends on the ocean with or without knowing and yet years of learning and the knowledge obtained doesn’t match its importance. In order to keep everything at normal levels the ocean plays a really big part that we have yet to discover. The ocean is responsible for climate regulation, recreation, medicine, economy, food and even the air we breathe. It is said that the ocean produces over half of the world’s oxygen needed and absorbs 50 times more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere. In addition to that, it covers 70% of the earth’s surface and therefore it helps transport heat from the equator to the poles to regulate our climate and its weather patterns. Moreover, it provides a lot more than just food. Many medical products come from the ocean, medicinal ingredients which help fight cancer, arthritis, heart diseases, etc are some of them.

The existence of marine life and its ecosystem which includes coral reefs as well, is threatened by natural phenomena and also on top of that harmful human activities. Natural phenomena include hurricanes, storms, tsunamis, landslides and human related activities including greenhouse gases, coastal pollution/ development, overfishing, etc are some. In order to solve these problems first we need to thoroughly examine and perform research to find the reasons and then the solutions that are practically applicable. The study of marine ecosystems is hampered due to three main reasons and they are as follows:

  • Lack of data
  • Lack of trained personnel
  • Difficulty to access relevant sites

Solution

Therefore, a solution which is able to solve these problems so that it’s a win-win situation for both humans and the ocean which can also be referred to as “nature” was needed. It must be a solution that does not harm marine life and at the same time provide us insights of the ocean. This was a collaborative approach along with the University of Ruhuna, funded by Dialog Axiata and also with the help of the Sri Lankan Navy. For these requirements a team from the University of Ruhuna came up with the idea to design a buoy equipped with all the relevant sensors necessary for picking up data and transmitting them at any time we needed it to do so. The main parameter of a buoy is to get the temperatures in the ocean at different levels of depths. With the temperature, researchers and marine scientists can observe by getting the necessary data about the phases of temperature in the ocean at different places to come up with their theories which makes it easier for them to come up with solutions for improving the ocean’s conditions and save marine life.

Idea Stage

The main target was to get insights as to what causes these kinds of damages to the reefs and therefore an idea was brainstormed to monitor things happening underwater with sensors and also to get those data over the internet in real-time. With the idea, we thought of building a buoy that can continuously monitor the oceanic parameters and send data to be viewed in real-time by using a laptop or any other computer. Three initial sensing sites were chosen and they were: Hikkaduwa, Pigeon Islands and Polhena. These places are famous for its aquatic animals and therefore they were the best places to carry out initial experiments. For each and every site we decided to place one buoy to measure and transmit the readings. As for the parameters, temperature was the most critical one and had to have an accuracy of less than 1 degrees celsius. The number of sensors per node was decided to be 3 at different levels of depth and the buoys were set to be placed at a distance between 100m and 1km.

Prototype

The initial prototype which was specifically designed to do the above mentioned tasks was equipped with a set of sensors, antennas and some other essential parts like anchors for each buoy and outer casing to enclose all the necessary items. Temperature sensors, pH sensors to measure the pH values, turbidity sensors to measure the amount of light that is scattered by suspended solids in water, current sensor and salinity sensor in order to measure the electric current through the ocean waters. All these sensors were included to detect and observe all the necessary parameters within the ocean. As for a particular buoy, its structure is as follows. At the top, the section which is on above the water level, contains all devices necessary for the transmission processes of data and other signals. This part is connected to a mobile network to send and retrieve bits of data. Furthermore, below the level of water the buoy is equipped with three sensor sets, each one containing all the sensors mentioned above, at three different depths and at the very bottom, the anchor to hold the whole structure in a fixed position. As for the software side of this solution, we created a simple web interface which has the standard functionalities and also was given features like data visualization where each and every buoy’s data could be separately visualized in a very detailed and meaningful manner. Testing of the prototype was done in a pool to get the readings.

Minimum Viable Product

The next stage, which was in creating a minimum viable product before the final deployment was started off by improving the dashboard system with improved data visualization features and additional data storage and retrieval features. With additional improvements to the buoy system the testing was done in a lake in order to emulate the ocean and get insights to how efficiently the system works and to make the necessary changes to get the buoy system’s optimum capabilities.

Deployment

The finalized version was deployed in Hikkaduwa which is one of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka which is also reputed as the second best surfing place in Sri Lanka along with approximately more than 70 varieties of multicoloured corals. This place was one of the most suitable places to start off the deployment of the buoy systems.

Benefits

With detailed data received from each and every buoy, scientists and researchers could bypass the three main initial problems faced. Firstly, now data is available at any moment and stored securely in an efficient database system. Secondly, the lack of trained personnel is solved because no trained person needs to physically go to those particular places in order to get any data, everything is readily available to be used. Lastly, difficulties need not be faced anymore in accessing the “inaccessible” and dangerous sites. These buoys could be deployed without going through deep waters and also after they are deployed its maintenance needs to be done only if there are any noted faults. As for other impacts and advantages of this buoy system, it is the first ever system to monitor the sea environment in and around Sri Lanka. It is integrated with early fault detection and other alarm systems to make sure the buoys work without any sort of interruptions or malfunctions. The data obtained with this buoy system is of high value for marine biologists, scientists, researchers and oceanographers. With this kind of solution and proper and maximum use of it, we at SenzMate believe that we can stop the continuous decrement of the beautiful marine ecosystem and create a worldwide impact to encourage use of these types of solutions.