Automated instrumentation allows COMPASS science to continue

Back to work on the COMPASS project for the RV Corystes as it leaves Belfast Harbour

The impact of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic has been felt by the COMPASS project, which saw tagging, routine environmental sampling and work on research vessels reduced or stopped.

The project has, however, shown much resilience during this challenging period by spending more time on data analysis and reporting, and also on planning and preparing for post COVID-19 operational activity.

Thankfully, automated instruments that were already in place at sea and in the rivers continued to collect data, including the acoustic receivers to collect data on whale and dolphin activity, and estuarine and coastal receivers collecting data on salmon and trout movements. 

COMPASS researcher Alejandro from Marine Science Scotland models the latest PPE

As operations re-started in a restricted mode in July, the researchers at SAMS, AFBI and MSS have been endeavouring to recover instruments which may present some interesting questions. How long did the instruments continue to operate for during lockdown? Has there been a reduction in ocean noise due to reduced traffic?

Over the next few months the oceanographic moorings will be serviced and replaced, the acoustic instruments will be located and collected by AFBI and MSS using their research vessels, and the estuarine and coastal receivers will be collected by AFBI and IFI who have also resumed the tagging of fish. 

One the main outputs of COMPASS is to develop telemetered data systems so that data is sent automatically to researchers from the existing network of buoys. Despite the challenges of lockdown, an opportunity was created to test these systems and plan for its completion, with assistance by the Data Management teams at partner institutes.

Now that we are out of stricter conditions of lockdown this network is being finalised and this is assisted by research vessels from the Scottish (SAMS/MSS), Northern Irish (AFBI) and Irish (MI) partners, who have been returning to the buoys to ensure data is collected, equipment is set-up and maintenance is undertaken.