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BOPPERS: system for shallow water bed measurements

Posted August 5, 2013

The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has developed a shallow water environmental profiler.  The Bio-Optical Physical Pop-Up Environmental Reconnaissance System – or Boppers, because that name is insanely long – autonomously measures physical and optical properties of the water column at periodic, user-specified intervals over an extended time period (weeks to months).


What is it?

In case the complicated name wasn’t entirely explanatory, BOPPERS is designed to keep track of our waters in an information-is-the-future-of-technology sort of way. The small profiling unit is designed to optimally accommodate all the sensors within the required space confines, but with adequate buoyancy for non-powered ascent during vertical profiles.

The complete measurement data set is archived on the unit, and a user-specified subset is transmitted on the next ascent to a land station using Iridium satellite communications when the profiler float is at the surface.  This system provides a unique capability of monitoring water column properties at a fixed location and broadcasting data for operational use, while maintaining a non-interfering trawl-resistance posture.

What does that mean?

BOPPERS is a sensor system designed to record data from shallow water beds. It’s a series of sensors that sit at the bottom of a shallow body of water – like a lake or a river bed – and record the environment around it.

So let’s take a look at the sensor system itself, shall we?  The profiler is a trawl-resistant bottom mooring that looks like a flying saucer.  That device is equipped with a bottom-up profiler. Data is collected and stored on-board, and can be transmitted in near-real-time to a land station when the profiler surfaces.

The patent-pending NRL system, equipped with advanced instrumentation, includes the capability to simultaneously collect measurements of physical and bio-optical properties.

What does it do?

BOPPERS can record both physical and bio-optical measurements.  Physical measurements include: temperature, salinity, pressure, currents, and waves. Bio-optical measurements include: bean-attenuation coefficient, backscattering coefficient at three wavelengths, downwelling irradiance at seven wavelengths, chlorophyll, phycoerythrin, and colored dissolved organic matter fluorescence.  Those are a lot of Scrabble-winning words, there. 

This custom-designed hardware and software control system is developed to integrate all the sensors, data flow, storage, and transmission together.  BOPPERS provides programmable, dynamic configuration for event scheduling.

The base and profiling unit are electrically isolated; that is, the computers communicate via inductive coupling, enable event coordination and synchronization, and provide real-time updates to the system configuration. In addition to all the systems working together, the battery power is utilizing resource the way I wish my wireless mouse would.  The inductive charging system is also employed to recharge the profiler batteries from the larger bank of batteries in the base unit to achieve a maximum power budget.

How can this help?

Scientific discovery is based on the knowledge obtained from the collection of data provided.  Ergo, data = important.  Obtaining data easily, correctly, and with a budget-friendly system is worth a lot to scientists of all disciplines and specialties.  BOPPERS provides several key benefits in the way of information obtainment.  I can name five very specific ones.

One: autonomous measurement.  This means means both optical and physical properties of the water column can be autonomously measured at a single location over extended periods of time.

Two: fixed location.  Measurements at a fixed location can be easier to interpret for operational and scientific purposes and limits the risk of system loss.

Three, trawl-resistance.  The form factor of the bottom mooring and the bottom-up configuration of the profiling unit greatly reduce the likelihood of damage from ship trawling.

Four: improved antenna system.  This allows for more reliable real-time data transmission of measured properties.  And finally…

Five: improved software and hardware systems.  Better integration allows for complex configuration of data collection protocols and data flow.

My take? It’s hard to argue that we couldn’t benefit from knowing more about our environmental and maritime surroundings.

Having the information BOPPERS helps to provide could open up more than just opportunities for information.  These systems could provide harbor protection.  Keeping the waterways clean and the eco-system in tact has great advantages, to humans and animals alike.  They could provide marine park monitoring in that respect as well.  If you want to expand the possibility horizon, having integrated coastal observing systems could provide multi-coastal coverage of various waterways.

BOPPERS could provide environmental protection monitoring and coastal protection systems as well.  It’s better to know if you’re facing a situation – especially one underwater – as soon as possible so you can work fast to mitigate situations before they spread to widely.  Having an ear, or BOPPERS, to the (marine) floor helps to make sure the waters are literally flowing the way they should.  There is also room for satellite algorithm development and validation, as well.

When it comes down to it, this is a sensor system designed to help us understand our various environments more effectively, and that’s something everyone can enjoy.  Also, with a name like BOPPERS, you know it’s going to be worth it.

Source: Armed With Science

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