Aura CDT PhD Project Wins Award at National Conference

16 February 2022

Aura CDT student Sarah Dickson recently presented her research at the UKIRSC Society of Marine Mammalogy Annual Conference 2022 and won the award for best poster.

Sarah is a Cohort 2 student undertaking her PhD at Newcastle University, under the supervision of Professor Per Berggren and Jeff Neasham. Her research project is entitled “Assessment of echolocating cetacean (porpoise and dolphin) occurrence and behaviour in offshore development sites using a novel passive acoustic monitoring system”. It involves monitoring dolphins and porpoises and the impact of anthropogenic activity at offshore wind developments, including increases in noise. Sound is used by marine mammals to forage, navigate and communicate and so offshore developments have the potential to impact upon their distribution, and foraging and reproductive success.

The project uses NanoPAM, a novel passive acoustic system designed at Newcastle University by a multidisciplinary team from the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences and the School of Engineering. Passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) is a technique widely used in marine mammal monitoring. PAM involves the use of hydrophones (underwater microphones) to detect marine mammal vocalisations. Traditionally, devices are deployed, left in-situ and collected at a later date and data is analysed. However, devices are often lost at sea due to the extreme environmental conditions, meaning data is also lost. The NanoPAM system is novel in that it allows for near to real-time monitoring through the use of a Wi-Fi buoy, which sends a summary of detections each hour directly to shore.

This new system presents an opportunity to reduce the cost of environmental surveys as PAM is significantly cheaper than the current visual surveys undertaken at offshore wind farms. It also reduces the risk of data loss associated with traditional PAM.

Sarah’s research is being carried out at Blyth Offshore Wind Farm in Northumberland. Sarah is currently testing the NanoPAM’s performance against other PAM devices. She then plans a full scale deployment of the NanoPAM system to investigate the impact of vessel activity at the wind farm on dolphins and porpoises and finally will use the results of the field trials to improve the NanoPAM system.

On attending the conference and winning best poster, Sarah said:

“I thoroughly enjoyed presenting my poster at the conference, and it was a great opportunity to network with others currently using PAM for marine mammal monitoring. There was a lot of interest in my project and its applications to the offshore wind industry which was very encouraging. I am delighted to have been awarded “Best Poster” as well.”

Primary supervisor, Professor Per Berggren said:

“Congratulations to Sarah for winning best poster at UKIRSC22. Well deserved for an excellent poster!”

More information about Sarah Dickson’s PhD research may be found on her project page.

Poster with summary of academic research by Sarah Dickson of the Aura CDT

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