Research Report 2007

Memorial's ocean research reaches new depths

On a windy, sunny day in June, a large transport truck, followed by a crane arrived on Memorial University's St. John's campus. In the truck was a $1 million piece of equipment, the MUN Explorer, which had travelled across the country to reach its destination - the Underwater Vehicles Laboratory in the basement of the S.J. Carew Building. Underwater researchers in the Faculty of Engineering had been waiting for this delivery for quite some time.

The MUN Explorer is a 4.5 metre autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) with a 60 kilometre range which was built by International Submarine Engineering Ltd. (ISE) in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. Weighing 700 kilograms, it is the only AUV of its size and capability available to the university research community in Canada. In fact, there are only a handful of groups worldwide involved in AUV research and even fewer specifically focused on what engineering researchers at Memorial are undertaking.

The MUN Explorer a survey class AUV which means it can handle up to 150 kg of different sensors allowing it to do large scale surveys of the water column or seafloor. It also means it can go to depths of 3000 metres - something very few underwater vehicles can do. And researchers at Memorial will be pushing the boundaries of what it can do in offshore environmental engineering, iceberg exploration and characterization, and seabed surveys.

The Explorer is initially being operated in coastal areas of Newfoundland for environmental monitoring and vehicle dynamics testing (e.g. how the vehicle moves, and if there are things that can be done to make it more efficient). Work is on-going to develop the sensors of the vehicle to include measuring the conductivity, temperature and depth, and sonar and camera devices giving it more versatility and capabilities. This summer research was conducted in the waters off Holyrood on the vehicle dynamics and environmental monitoring.

Funded by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency through an Atlantic Innovation Fund award to the Pan-Atlantic Petroleum Systems Consortium, it is the second in a line of three. The first vehicle of its kind is operated out of France.

Sara Adams is a research lab coordinator with the Marine Environmental Research Lab for Intelligent Vehicles, as part of Memorial University's CREAIT Network. Sara says most people are familiar with C-SCOUT, the smaller, green AUV that's been used by MUN researchers since 2000. And although still used for research purposes, C-SCOUT doesn't compare to this AUV. As Sara explains, they would never have thought of bringing C-SCOUT down to even 20 metres. Unlike C-SCOUT, the Explorer is ocean ready. "C-SCOUT was a test bed, a development vehicle that graduate students worked on building and developing innovative parts for. C-SCOUT was never ready to conduct large ocean missions." But, Sara adds, C-SCOUT is not completely dead in the water. "It will still be a test bed type vehicle but the Explorer will be our flagship, ocean going vessel. For the next while our main focus will be getting Explorer out there as much as possible."