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June 2013

Measuring the health of our oceans

Understanding the health of the world’s oceans is the key to understanding climate change and the state of the overall environment.

Because of this, scientists are always looking for new technologies to help them monitor ocean water quality and changes in pollution levels.  One way to determine water quality is by analyzing the distribution of light through the water, also known as ocean radiance.  It is this light that provides the basic energy for photosynthesis which supports aquatic life.

However, an accurate measurement of ocean radiance is difficult to achieve.

Through a Mitacs-Accelerate internship, Jianwei Wei, PhD student at Dalhousie University’s Department of Oceanography teamed up with industry partner Satlantic to help develop a new generation radiance camera.  Halifax-based Satlantic is an ocean technology company that develops sensors for oceanic research and monitoring of water quality from remote platforms.

“When I started the internship, Satlantic was planning to develop a new generation radiance camera to determine the distribution of light underwater, giving scientists an accurate interpretation of water quality and pollution,” Wei explained.

Wei helped Satlantic develop and calibrate the camera so the light from raw images could be converted to radiance values.

“Some of the important issues we addressed during the internship included image deblurring, radiance field monitoring and data validation.  Extensive field trials were conducted and massive amounts of data analyzed.  We have now successfully optimized the camera for use as a generic oceanographic radiometer.”

“The research internship has helped us establish the radiance camera as a reliable scientific tool and has given us a much greater understanding of radiance fields in the ocean.  We foresee a large commercial market for the radiance camera system providing spatial, temporal and spectral information of the light field,” said Wei.

Wei said the internship not only provided the chance to work on developing a new product with industry, but also the chance to work on a practical project on which to base his PhD thesis research.

“Along the way, I have established links and contacts with industrial scientists and engineers. This internship has allowed me to work on a real life industry challenge.  The Mitacs-Accelerate program provides an opportunity to transition from a university setting to the realities of society.  It has given me the chance to learn skills which are rarely taught in classrooms and establish social and professional links with industry.”

Satlantic’s Director of Engineering Development, Keith Brown, said the Mitacs-Accelerate program gave them the research expertise needed to develop a cutting-edge radiance camera for ocean optics research.

“Jianwei worked closely with our development team to validate the camera for measuring the radiance field with an unprecedented combination of temporal, spatial and dynamic response.  The calibration procedures, field experiments and data analysis have moved the technology forward, making it a valuable new tool for the ocean health research community.”

Mitacs gratefully acknowledges the Government of Canada, the Networks of Centres of Excellence's Industrial Research and Development Internship program, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and the Government of Nova Scotia for their support of Mitacs-Accelerate in the province.