Technology

Royal Navy Tests 'Cutting-Edge' Software To Map Seabed Rapidly

It took the software hours to map the ocean floor near Plymouth Naval Base and the Sound, which would usually take weeks.

The Royal Navy has tested a 'cutting-edge' software that maps seabeds close to shore in hours rather than days or weeks.

Survey vessel HMS Magpie charted the waters around Plymouth using just regular radar and a specialist computer programme that measures wave height.

It would take the ship anything up to two weeks to map the ocean floor on the approach to Plymouth Naval Base and the Sound with her sonar.

However, it took the new software only hours to do the same.

The method, known as radar bathymetry, was developed by scientists from the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool and experts from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

Paul Bell, the lead project scientist at the National Oceanography Centre, said the technique could allow for "remote charting of both shallow water and currents from a standoff distance of several nautical miles".

According to the Royal Navy, the software could be "vital in times of peace or war when time is critical".

This would include in the aftermath of a natural disaster when a possible shifting seabed could prevent the usual access to harbours or beaches.

A shoreline map of Plymouth Sound and harbour created by the software (Picture: Royal Navy).

The vessel does not have to sail over the area being surveyed, as all the system needs is wind, a swell to generate waves and computing power.

"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.

"It was excellent to work alongside the National Oceanography Centre to trial and develop these new and exciting techniques that could have a wide range of use in the Royal Navy."

The results are not as detailed as the scans HMS Magpie, or other Royal Navy survey vessels, can produce with their hi-tech sonar suites and the system only works close to the shore.

The software remains in development, with the goal to integrate it with the Navy's existing navigational radar and systems to provide accurate, real-time seabed maps.

No new equipment would be required in most cases, just upgraded software.

HMS Magpie will return to more regular duties shortly, having just emerged from her annual winter overhaul, and will head to the east coast to conduct traditional survey work of ports and harbours.

Cover image: HMS Magpie (Picture: Royal Navy).