New Innovations for Hydrographic Surveying
Remote and unmanned technologies are moving the industry closer to hydrographic surveying of the ocean floor that still remains undiscovered, which is approximately 80 percent. The challenges that hydrographic surveying could represent in terms of time, money and risk to crews are being re-assessed through the application of remotely controlled vessels and equipment.
Traditionally, hydrographic surveying has been logistically complex, in part because of how inefficient it can be. The cost of having a surveying crew at sea gathering a small amount of data prompted companies and public institutions to reconsider this expense unless it was necessary to take into account the project’s infrastructure and engineering characteristics.
The introduction of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) was an important step in the right direction but that technology has taken time to evolve in regard to usability and efficiency. The use of AUVs also meant that companies were still working with surveying crews, which in some cases became even more numerous because they now included AUV technicians and controllers.
To lower costs and enforce security practices related to hydrographic surveying, the key was to find a way to substitute onsite crews altogether. This is the premise behind the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, as reported by journalist Saul Trewern in his Ship&Offshore magazine article “Safe and Sustainable Hydrographic Surveying.”
The story begins when Gebco Nippon Foundation (Gebco-NF) approached UK boat builder Hushcraft to achieve unmanned hydrographic surveying. This became so relevant for Hushcraft that in 2017, it established a subsidiary called Sea-Kit that was dedicated to solving the issue. By using AUVs, it arguably had one part of the puzzle. But it still had to figure out how to construct an unmanned and remotely operated vessel (in this case an unmanned surface vehicle or USV) that could interact with an AUV to deploy it and retrieve it from the ocean floor.
The result is a ship called USV Maxlimer. The final competition involved each team mapping at least 250km2 of the Mediterranean Sea floor near the Greek city of Kalamata at 5m horizontal resolution or higher in less than 24 hours. However, this was only the beginning of the Maxlimer’s journey. “USV Maxlimer has since proven its ability to match the quality and yield of data produced by crewed survey vessels, during a 22-day un-crewed trans-Atlantic survey (UTAS) co-funded by the UK Space Agency through the European Space Agency’s Business Application program. Sea-Kit worked collaboratively with industry partners on the UTAS project, including Fugro, Global Marine Group, Map the Gaps, Teledyne CARIS, Woods Hole Group and The Nippon Foundation-Gebco Seabed 2030 project,” Trewern wrote.
As a global geo-data specialist, Fugro is deeply involved in all aspects in which hydrographic surveying is applied to offshore projects for both the hydrocarbon and energy sectors. This led Sea-Kit to deliver the first 12m X Class Sea-Kit USV to Fugro at the end of 2020.
According to Trewern, the vehicle’s first missions will consider the following: “The vessel will conduct completely uncrewed ROV pipeline inspections in water depths of up to 450m on Australia’s North West Shelf. A second vessel will have a similar specification and is scheduled for delivery to Aberdeen in the first quarter of 2021.”
Ivar de Josselin de Jong, global solutions director for Remote Inspections at Fugro, quoted in Trewern’s article, explained that, “these solutions are undoubtedly the future of the industry for three key reasons. The first, and most important, is safety. Autonomous and remote solutions generate a significant reduction in total HSSE exposure. Whereas before, crews would be exposed to harsh and sometimes unpredictable marine environments, now we have the capabilities for the most difficult tasks to be conducted remotely, hugely decreasing the risk to personnel. Second, there are significant environmental benefits. With small and hybrid vessels, we can reduce fuel consumption by over 95 percent, which in turn means a large reduction in the overall carbon footprint of our operations. Finally, there is the data collection itself. The new capabilities allow for faster and better-quality insights. Better quality insights mean more effective decision-making because data acquired remotely are available in near real-time.”
Fugro is the world’s leading Geo-data specialist, collecting and analyzing comprehensive information about the Earth and the structures built upon it. Adopting an integrated approach that incorporates acquisition and analysis of Geo-data and related advice, Fugro provides solutions. With expertise in site characterization and asset integrity, clients are supported in the safe, sustainable and efficient design, construction and operation of their assets throughout the full lifecycle.