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Tuning acoustics for ocean observations

ICES to contribute acoustic database to AtlantOS, a project which will see existing Atlantic Ocean observation efforts pulled together into a single cohesive system.
Published: 29 January 2015

​Observations, necessary for the reliable monitoring of the biogeochemical, ecosystem and physical processes that govern life in the ocean, are at the heart of AtlantOS. Launched in response to a call by the EU’s research and innovation programme Horizon 2020, the four-year project aims to tie together all the disparate observing activities that take place across all disciplines in the Atlantic Ocean into one overarching scheme. This rounded picture of the state of the ocean will facilitate better management and sustainable exploitation of its resources.

A date with data

The database will host information on fisheries and zooplankton observations collected from various pelagic surveys coordinated by ICES and will fall into two categories: acoustic data, derived from readings taken on vessels, and those obtained through trawls in the open ocean – pelagic – zone. Combined, this will result in key biological data on fish stocks such as herring, mackerel and blue whiting as well as krill and other prey species.

With such data currently unavailable in ICES Data Centre, the challenge is twofold. First, to evaluate the range of existing databases and second to set up and bring into operation the new one, making it available for the working groups responsible for acoustic surveys.  

Laying the foundation

The path to achieving the means of hosting this data began with a January meeting of the Working Group on International Pelagic Surveys (WGIPS), itself a multinational focal point for the design and implementation of acoustic surveys across ICES areas such as the North Sea, Nordic Seas, and Barents Sea. For WGIPS’ experts and chairs, Ciaran O'Donnell and Karl-Johan Stæhr, this initially meant bringing together all the pelagic survey data available through ICES Data Centre, before taking stock of the databases already in place.

“The problem was that each acoustic survey group developed its own database over many years specific to their needs,” explained O’Donnell. “Now we have to find the common thread to merge them together to create a standardized approach.”

“The AtlantOS project is coming at an important time for us as we move towards harmonizing the way in which we store and analyse our survey data. This is a good opportunity to get everyone’s common data in one central place. We’re currently working on what we can provide AtlantOS and are in discussion with the ICES Data Centre to ensure a smooth transition.”

“This sort of exercise is good for us because we know we need to change the format in which we submit data. So it’s good opportunity to do an internal review of what we’ve got,” added Stæhr. 

Steering coordination

Along with WGIPS’ fellow acoustic survey groups such as the Working Group on Fisheries Acoustics Science and Technology (WGFAST) and the Baltic International Fish Survey Working Group (WGBIFS), collaboration for AtlantOS will be overseen by the SCICOM/ACOM Steering Group on Integrated Ecosystem Observation and Monitoring (SSGIEOM), one of five ICES steering groups responsible for directing a number of thematic expert groups under a blanket subject. In the case of SSGIEOM this involves moving towards the enactment integrated monitoring programmes in ICES area.

SSGIEOM chair Nils Olav Handegard, described the organization necessary amongst these different constituents. 

“Several different practices exist, and ICES will facilitate a coordination amongst these techniques and provide a joint recommendation on best practice. ICES is in a unique position to coordinate this effort.”

In addition to feeding into AtlantOS’ integrated observation system, this alignment of methods will serve broader integrated process within ICES.

“This (acoustic data) information is an important element from both an ecological and fisheries management point of view,” continued Handegard. “The effort will offer standardization and will enable us to efficiently disseminate these data to integrated assessment groups and other users.”

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​Top side monitoring station on the July 2014 boarfish acoustic survey cruise

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Tuning acoustics for ocean observations

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