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System Development for Underwater Inspection, Success in NEPII
NSYSU College of Marine Sciences and collaboration partners from other universities form an interdisciplinary research team to develop a series of underwater inspection instrument for surveying seafloor, under the full support of the National Energy Program-Phase I/Phase II (NEP, NEPII).

The Towed System has been successfully developed under integrated participation of industry. During the development, several domestic companies were invited to joint-work on the design and fabrication of components and part. Up to now, the depth record of 2680 m was set by the Abyss Twisted-pair Imaging System (ATIS) during the pilot survey in the Taiwan south-west waters in 2012. With the HD camera onboard ATIS, seafloor images can be seen in real-time. The existence of unique features on the seafloor helps allocate the potential gas hydrate reservoir sites. The observation function provides a powerful tool for the scientists to search not only for gas hydrate but also deep-sea research in general.

The Deep Towed System originated from the NEP and NEPII hosted by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA). The Institute of Undersea Technology (IUT), NSYSU hosts the project with collaboration from several universities, including the Department of Photonics at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), Department of Engineering Science and Ocean Engineering at National Taiwan University (NTU), and Department of Chemical Engineering at Tatung University (TTU). Prior to the development of ATIS, most of the underwater inspection instruments were imported commercial products or acquired from other advanced ocean research institutes via international collaboration. Yet, without holding of key components, maintenance and upgrades of these systems were limited if not completely impossible. The research team felt that Taiwan should take one step forward to develop related core technology, and build up Taiwan’s own technology autonomy in ocean technology. Dr. Chau-Chang Wang, Dean of NSYSU College of Marine Sciences, stated that NEP has strived towards the autonomous development of underwater inspection instrument since 2013. During the development, several industry partners were also invited to learn the team’s expertise in ocean operation, and successfully overcome the challenges in developing the Towed System. The industry partners also gradually picked up the knowhow of ocean exploration instrument.

ATIS is a portable system deployed from a CTD winch (a standard equipment on most of the research vessels) on the support ship. With a pair of DSL modems connected to both ends of the cable, video stream and sonar signals are uplinked in real time. The availability of these information allows deep ocean geological and biological exploration to move into a new era because the operation conditions are simplified and affordable for any ocean research vessel. Furthermore, the research team revised the imaging system and ported it a conventional corer. With the help of images on the seafloor, this Video-Guided Corer (V-Corer) makes sampling more precise and reliable. These tools defined a milestone for Taiwan because they symbolize that Taiwan can autonomously design and develop deep sea exploration systems.

To have better lighting for high definition images, the second generation of the towed system is developed as a fiber-optic-based system called Fiber-optical Instrumentation Towed System (FITS). With an electric-optic hybrid cable, the system can operate in the deep ocean and provide high definition images and sensory data indefinitely as long as the shift of operating personnel continues. The upgrade in power supply and data communication enables more sensors to be implemented. Therefore, scientists can acquire more co-site information to evaluate the existence of gas hydrate formation and reservoir.

Starting from 2014, with the support of NEPI/II and Central Geological Survey (CGS), these towed systems surveyed gas hydrate hot areas around the Pointer Ridge, Palm Ridge and Yung-An Ridge off SW Taiwan at about 1300 m undersea, and provided data of the massive carbonate reefs. In June and July 2016, ATIS and V-Corer were chartered by CGS to execute Okinawa Trough Survey Project. From the live images, abundant biodiversity can be found at around deep-sea hydrothermal vents at about 1,200 m to 1,500 m. These imagery data are crucial for evaluating the potential rare earth element mineral resource of the area. Up to the end of 2016, the towed systems accumulated over 200 km and 140 km worth of seafloor for ATIS/V-Corer and FITS respectively.

Dean Wang expressed the greatest thanks for the team and the support and assistance by Taiwan Ocean Research Institute at National Applied Research Laboratories, Central Geological Survey at MOEA, NTU, NCKU, TTU, and DWTek. The research team will continue to work closely with industries in Taiwan and assist them to transform their capacity to develop marine technology markets.
Publish date : 2017-02-06
  • ATIS
  • FITS
  • V-Corer
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