Researchers develop novel way of measuring ship noise

Commercial ship at sunset
Image: Felix Tchverkin on Unsplash

Light quickly scatters underwater but sound can travel for hundreds of miles

Many marine organisms rely on sound for their survival. It is the primary medium that oceanic life uses to find prey, locate mates and offspring, avoid predators, guide their navigation and locate habitat, as well as to listen and communicate with each other.

Over the last century, Human-generated Underwater Radiated Noise (URN) from recreational boating, shipping, energy exploration and the military have increased dramatically in our oceans. This has reduced marine life’s ability to hear environmental cues vital for survival and requires urgent research.

Container ship with colourful shipping containers viewed from above

The Hy-Drone is a waterproof aerial drone fitted with a SoundTrap hydrophone to measure ship noise. It as created by professors Patrick Fitzsimmons and Mehmet Atlar of the Department of Naval Architecture, Ocean and Marine Engineering (NAOME) in Strathclyde, UK. The Hy-Drone capable of landing on the sea, powering off and floating while the hydrophone is suspended below it. This novel configuration minimises extraneous background noise from where a hydrophone is typically tethered to a buoy or support vessel.

Mother and calf humpback whales swimming underwater
Humpback whales swimming underwater | Image: Ed Lyman/NOAA

Like carbon emission, increasing emission of URN from ever-growing commercial shipping traffic in the world’s ocean has become a life-threatening danger to living mammal and fish whose communications, feeding, breeding and day-to-day affairs are adversely affected by URN emission.

Mehmet Atlar of the Department of Naval Architecture, Ocean and Marine Engineering (NAOME)

The Hy-Drone can be launched quickly toward a target ship and can be recovered in minutes, without requiring the research vessel to stop to recover equipment. Proving trials were recently conducted off Blyth in Northumberland which confirmed the ability of the Hy-Drone to minimise background noise from ships and itself. Strathclyde has started further trials in the Clyde estuary.


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