The mysteries of ocean currents and sand movements in waters off Perth could be unravelled thanks to a new radar and software system installed as part of a Murdoch University research project.
The data collected from the powerful new system will help Murdoch oceanographer and marine scientist Dr Jennifer Verduin understand how sand flows are being affected at coastal areas beset by erosion issues.
“Being able to monitor ocean currents through this very precise new radar signal processing system will help us to understand more about sand distribution and erosion in Cockburn Sound, to feed into research efforts to help with erosion issues,” Dr Verduin said.
The new system will also help Dr Verduin and other researchers to plan seagrass regrowing projects, which are often impacted by sand flows.
Cockburn Sound has lost around 80 per cent of its vital seagrass habitat since the 1960s, and Dr Verduin has researched seagrass rehabilitation techniques in the Sound.
“We can also use the new system to understand more about oil spills and sullage (household waste water) disposal,” Dr Verduin said.
Murdoch’s radar was recently installed at the former headquarters of Fremantle Volunteer Sea Rescue at Fremantle’s sea front. The signal processing software will help Dr Verduin understand what is happening up to 30 metres below the surface of Cockburn Sound, up to 1.8km offshore.
The Wave Radar System is a proven radar-based wave and surface current monitoring system developed by OceanWaveS GmbH (Germany). Further signal processing software was developed by a Canadian team. This software was originally created to guide the precise movement of oil rigs in the Arctic, so they could avoid icebergs. It is sensitive enough to identify small oil and sewage spills and could indicate if locations off the Perth coast have ongoing problems with pollution.
Unlocking underwater mysteries
As part of the project, Dr Verduin is also working with researchers from Murdoch’s Engineering and Energy discipline to develop specialised software for an unmanned underwater vehicle to collect data on underwater organisms. The radar signal output will be used to assist in validation of instrument performance and software of this autonomous vehicle.
“Currently data on underwater species is collected by divers, which is risky, inefficient and time consuming,” said Dr Verduin.
“The technology can be used for conservation studies and used in conjunction with the data gained from the radar to zero in on specific locations in Cockburn Sound.”
The software development project has been made possible by a Small Steps in Innovation grant from the Murdoch University Vice Chancellor’s office.