The Royal Navy has tested software to map the seabed close to shore in hours – not days or weeks.
Survey vessel HMS Magpie (H130) was able to chart the waters around Plymouth purely using regular radar installed on shipping the world over and a specialist computer program which measures wave height.
Using that data and information about currents, the software can produce a detailed profile of the seabed in a matter of hours – without the ship or boat having to physically sail over the area being surveyed, according to the navy.
All the system needs is wind and a swell to generate waves – plus computing power.
As explained, the method – known as radar bathymetry and developed by scientists from the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool and MOD experts from Defence Science and Technology Laboratory – could be vital in times of peace or war when time is critical.
“By analysing the sea clutter images of waves visible on standard marine radars a bathymetric profile (that’s the depth) and surface current assessment is created,” explained the lead project scientist at the National Oceanography Centre, Paul Bell.
“This technique could allow the remote charting of both shallow water and currents from a standoff distance of several nautical miles and could be employed by all Royal Navy Ships using the navigation radars that are already fitted with.”
Given the ship’s size, Magpie doesn’t carry the standard navigational radar used by the rest of the Fleet, so one was temporarily installed on a roof rack.
“The beauty of this concept is that it uses the existing radars already fitted to our ships,” said Lieutenant Commander Mark White, HMS Magpie’s Commanding Officer.
At present the software is still in development, but the goal is to integrate it with the Royal Navy’s existing navigational radar and systems – no new equipment would be required in most cases, just upgraded software – to provide accurate, real-time seabed maps.
Commissioned in 2018, HMS Magpie replaced veteran survey ship HMS Gleaner. It is part of the navy’s Hydrographic squadron.