Application of novel sensors to assess vessel, porpoise & dolphin activity during development of a floating wind farm off Blyth, UK

Research projects

Project Description:

This PhD scholarship is offered by the Aura Centre for Doctoral Training in Offshore Wind Energy and the Environment; a partnership between the Universities of Durham, Hull, Newcastle and Sheffield. The successful applicant will undertake a PG-Dip training year at the University of Hull before completing their PhD research at Newcastle University.

For more information visit Or if you have a direct question about the project, please email and we will forward the query to the relevant supervisor. Please do not contact the project supervisors directly.


Echolocating marine animals (toothed whales e.g. dolphins and porpoises) use sound to navigate, forage and communicate (Yang et al. 2021). The sounds and related activities may be interrupted by presence and noise from human activities including vessel and offshore construction (Temple et al. 2019). This may lead to animals leaving an area or lowering their foraging and reproduction success and ultimately causing negative effect for individual and population fitness.

This project will further develop, test, validate and use novel passive acoustic sensors (developed at Newcastle University by the supervisory team) to identify and assess vessel activity using a cavitation noise sensor platform (Lowes et al. 2019) and porpoise and dolphin occurrence, and behaviour using an echolocation sensor platform – NanoPAM (Berggren et al. 2019). The two platforms are small, low-cost, low-energy passive acoustic monitoring systems, deployed near the seabed, that listens, analyse and send the resulting data back to the user on land via long-range wifi or Iridium satellite networks. The project will build on the testing and developments of the NanoPAM system by a currently Aura funded student. This project will deploy multiple cavitation and upgraded NanoPAM sensors to cover the area off Blyth, UK, and monitor vessel, porpoise and dolphin activity before, during and after the construction of the planned Blyth floating wind farm to be commissioned by 2025.

This project will further develop, test, validate and use available hard- and software prototypes for the vessel cavitation monitoring system and a passive acoustic system for monitoring occurrence and behaviour of dolphins and porpoises. Identification and validation of vessel cavitation data will be conducted by comparing detections to simultaneously collected vessel AIS data. This will allow classification of cavitation data to vessel type and possibly individual vessels and facilitate monitoring temporal and spatial vessel occurrence in the study area. The NanoPAM system allow passive acoustic monitoring of the occurrence and behaviour of echolocating cetaceans (dolphin and porpoises). The validation and performance of the NanoPAM system is the focus of a current AURA PhD student’s research and the two students will overlap in the 2nd year of the proposed project and then work in parallel.

The two systems will then be deployed in this PhD project to monitor vessel and animal occurrence and behaviour (Fig. 1) during the development of a floating wind farm off Blyth, UK.  Data will be collected and analysed before, during and after the construction of the windfarm. The analyses will also collect and include environmental and construction related data in the analyses to allow evaluation of what drivers (e.g. environmental, construction related and vessel activity) that may affect dolphin and porpoise occurrence and behaviour.

The results will be important for planning future windfarm developments and will provide validated and tested methodologies to monitor vessel, porpoise and dolphin occurrence and behaviour.


Training and Skills

The student will receive all necessary training which will be adapted to fit their background and skills to date. This will include training on the construction and operation of modern acoustic systems and relevant data science techniques. The student will develop a wide range of in-demand instrumentation and novel scientific
skills that will provide excellent career opportunities in both academia and industry.


Entry requirements

If you have received a First-class Honours degree or a 2:1 Honours degree and a Masters (or the international equivalents) in Acoustic or Electronic Engineering, we would like to hear from you. An interest in animal and anthropogenic sound in the marine environment is desirable.

If your first language is not English, or you require Tier 4 student visa to study, you will be required to provide evidence of your English language proficiency level that meets the requirements of the Aura CDT’s academic partners. This course requires academic IELTS 7.0 overall, with no less than 6.0 in each skill.



The Aura CDT is funded by the EPSRC and NERC, allowing us to provide scholarships that cover fees plus a stipend set at the UKRI nationally agreed rates, circa £17,668 per annum at 2022/23 rates (subject to progress).



Research Council funding for postgraduate research has residence requirements. Our Aura CDT scholarships are available to Home (UK) Students. To be considered a Home student, and therefore eligible for a full award, a student must have no restrictions on how long they can stay in the UK and have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the scholarship (with some further constraint regarding residence for education). For full eligibility information, please refer to the EPSRC website. In addition, a number of Aura CDT Scholarships will be available to International Students across the projects offered by the partner institutions.


How to apply

Applications are via the University of Hull online portal; you must also download a supplementary application form from the Aura CDT website, complete and submit as part of the online application.

For more information about the Aura CDT including links and detailed instructions please visit our how to apply page.



Berggren P., Burnett R., Yang  L. & Neasham J. 2019.

Lowes G. J., Neasham, J. A., Burnett R. B. and Tsimenidis, C. C. 2019. “Low Energy, Passive Acoustic Sensing for Wireless Underwater Monitoring Networks,” OCEANS 2019 MTS/IEEE SEATTLE, Seattle, WA, USA, 2019, pp. 1-9. doi: 10.23919/OCEANS40490.2019.8962399

Temple A.J., Potlock K.M., Kenney, S and Berggren P. 2019. Acoustic monitoring of the temporal and spatial occurrence of cetaceans off Blyth, Northumberland, March. 2016 – June 2019. Consultancy report to EDF Energy Renewables. 35pp.

Yang L., Sharpe M., Temple A.J., Berggren P. 2021. Characterization and comparison of echolocation clicks of white-beaked dolphins (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) off the Northumberland coast, UK. J of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA) 149:1498-1506.

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