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It was in 2016 that staff at New Zealand’s University of Otago first became interested in the potential of multibeam echosounders. Emily Tidey, who manages Hydrographic Surveying at the university explains: “We could see a lot of projects that would benefit from a multibeam system, and we had four major departments interested – the School of Surveying, Department of Marine Science, the Department of Geology and the Department of Geography.”

Tidey, who has been part of several research cruises on the university research vessel Polaris II and teaches practical hydrography skills around Dunedin Harbour and along the Otago Coast, points out:

“All departments use various pieces of gear such as sampling equipment on the seabed, or coring gear … We realized we needed to complement this with gear for visualizing both the sea bed and the water column.”

One piece of equipment, multiple applications

“We had researchers who wanted to work in the coastal zones, up to say, 50m or so,” states Tidey. “Other people wanted to work in inland lakes, some of which are several hundred meters deep. Some of the geologists meanwhile wanted to explore the canyons – basically, several hundred meters down – as deep as we could give them.”

The wide range of environmental and survey needs led Tidey to R2Sonic. “On hearing about the R2Sonic system, we were pretty excited,” says Tidey. “A big factor was the range of frequencies which suited all of our people … The set-up is also straightforward, which is brilliant.”

Tidey also emphasizes that working with the R2Sonic team was easy, despite a lengthy approval process at the university.

“Universities take a long time [to make investment decisions],” clarifies Tidey, “and R2Sonic was there when we were ready.”

Current applications and research

At present, the R2Sonic system is being used by students and researchers in projects across a multitude of departments at the University of Otago.

“One researcher is working at looking pockmarks on the seabed and considering the underlying geology,” explains Tidey, “while another is working with local tribes to map their fisheries for what is really the first time ... research which will go right back into these communities.”

Meanwhile, geologists working on the Auckland Islands have been studying the evolution of the sea bed under climate change since the Holocene. “This tool has been very helpful,” explains Tidey, “otherwise they’re often just drilling blindly, looking for what they need.”

Looking to the future, Tidey hopes that the R2Sonic will be used in a number of natural surveys and other research projects.

“Getting the system was almost part of a logical progression,” concludes Tidey, of how the R2Sonic has benefited the university’s research capabilities. “[As a university], you’re keeping up with technology, and making sure you’re showing your students what’s out there right now.”

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