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Maritime companies race to map the world’s seabed

Kongsberg Discovery’s Simrad Echo research vessel (pictured) is used to launch autonomous underwater vehicles which can map the seabed down to depths of 6,000 metres. Credit: Alex Blair

Posted on June 17, 2024

A growing number of maritime companies and navies are using autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to map the ocean seabed for environmental, commercial and research purposes, Norwegian firm Kongsberg has said.

AUVs are increasingly deployed to monitor shipwrecks, marine ecosystems and chemical degradation – key use cases in the Oslo Fjord, which “looks like somebody has gone over the sea floor with a rake”, according to Kjetil Jensen, Kongsberg Discovery’s Vice-President of Seabed Mapping.

Several species of fish are disappearing from the fjord, while important areas of kelp forest and eelgrass have declined in recent years.

Jensen demonstrated Kongsberg’s HUGIN AUV acoustic sonar technology to reporters aboard the Simrad Echo on Monday (10 June), in Horten, Oslo. He claimed it is “probably the best equipped research vessel in the world”, pointing to its 50 sensors, measurement accuracy of 0.00001 degrees and seabed mapping capable of reaching the ocean’s deepest point: 10,984 meters in the Mariana Trench.

Jensen also said the HUGIN is able to collect data of high enough resolution to “estimate biomass and perform species discrimination with such accuracy that the system can detect if its a herring or a mackerel”.

A prototype of the HUGIN at Kongsberg’s site in Horten, Oslo. Credit: Alex Blair.

Most HUGIN models can spend up to 15 days at sea, travelling distances up to 2,200km and diving to depths of 6,000 metres. Each AUV carries a wide array of sensors, including synthetic aperture sonars, multi-beam echo sounders, cameras, lasers, sub-bottom profilers and environmental sensors.


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