A new flotilla of floating sensors, underwater gliders and seal-mounted cameras are being used by Australian marine scientists to probe deep into our oceans.
The launch of the new $22 million deep ocean survey was announced today at the Australia-New Zealand Climate Forum being held in Hobart.
It's hoped the study, which is part of the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS), will provide a better understanding of climate and weather extremes, as well as inform offshore industries and defence.
CSIRO oceanographer and leader of the IMOS ocean and climate node, Dr Susan Wijffels, says that so far IMOS has concentrated on what influence the ocean has on climate.
She says the next phase will look more at impacts on ocean ecosystems and the ocean's role in the carbon cycle. That includes everything from the ocean's chemistry, to the food chain - from the plankton microfauna right up to the top predators.
"There aren't many places internationally where people are attempting to do this in any concerted way, and certainly in the southern hemisphere this would be the first time it's being attempted," says Wijffels.
She says the next phase of IMOS involves floating sensors, a fleet of underwater gliders, and satellite tags on marine mammals. These networks of sensors will provide data with less than 24 hours lag between measurements being made and received globally says Wijffels.
"The data is transmitted through the Bureau of Meteorology and distributed to all the operational centres making weather and ocean predictions around the world," she says.
That includes seasonal climate outlooks, tracking rates of ocean change, and predicting when and how strong the next El Niño system will be, Wijffels says.
Remote controlled underwater gliders are part of the deep ocean project. The gliders "fly" on ocean currents in much the same way as aerial gliders operate.
Because they can be remotely steered, laterally as well as vertically, they are more intelligent data gatherers than simple floating sensors.
"The exciting thing about the gliders is that they give us very detailed information on a 1km or less scale," Wijffels says, "Not just temperature and salinity, but also things like fluorescence, particle sizes."
Marine mammals will also be tagged to find out when and where they feed and what kinds of salinity, pressure and temperatures they feed in.
The aim is that the gliders and floats will give a larger physical context for information about the behaviour of these top predators.
The data gathered in the study will be used for a range of government and commercial purpose, including better monitoring fish-stocks and their food sources, enabling more sustainable fishing practices.
Wijffels says it will be a while before the project achieves its full potential.
"We have to get the gear in the water first", she says, "then we have to have one or two years at least of good data and then we can start to synthesise it."