How are the events in the marine environment to be measured reliably and continuously – both in the short and in the long run?
Eyes and ears in the sea
To continuously study changes in the sea, particular ‘eyes and ears’ are necessary. These have to reliably and permanently withstand heavy swell, corrosion by seawater and sea air, fouling by marine organisms and other biological, chemical and physical influences. At the same time, the equipment should be low-maintenance. The ‘senses’ of marine scientists are specially developed sensors. The research group Marine Sensors focuses on the use of optical and acoustical principles for developing such sensors. Contrary to our eyes and ears, the sensors normally do not sense the same broad range in wavelengths or frequencies. However, in some areas they can even exceed our senses.
In order to see with the eyes, we need light. Most of us have known this, at latest, since their childhood when having tried to read beneath a blanket with the help of a torch. It therefore comes as no surprise, that man-made senses, to be used in the sea, also need light.
Some of these so-called optical sensors are designed for detecting the properties of particular substances in the sea. A portion of these substances, for example, emits light in a certain manner when irradiated with ultraviolet light. Anyone who has been to a club with black light and noticed the shining of teeth, clothes or bills already has a vague idea of the optical processes involved.
Our optical sensors bring their torch for the marine scientific measurements with them, such as a diode that emits clearly defined ultraviolet light. In this way, the parts of the irradiated substances that are of interest to the researchers are excited to emit light themselves – just as the teeth or the clothes.
With the help of a so-called detector, the optical sensor detects the colour, or more precisely the wavelength, of the light emitted by the substances. In terms of ‘seeing’ the substances to be investigated, the detector takes on the same role as the retina of our eyes.
The quality of the light detected by the optical sensor can tell marine scientists, for example, whether the compound dissolved in the sea originated from terrestrial plants or was excreted by marine microalgae.
Education by scientists and engineers
Research and development of the research group Marine Sensor Systems are tightly connected to cooperative study offers in the field of marine technology at the Jade University of Applied Sciences and the University of Oldenburg. The focus ‘marine technology’ within the undergraduate study course Mechatronics started in the study year 2010/11, with lecturers of the ICBM being involved. From 2014 on, the University of Oldenburg and the ICBM offer the Master course “Marine Sensors”.