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posted on 21.12.2020, 05:12 authored by Tom W. Bell, Nick J. Nidzieko, David A. Siegel, Robert J. Miller, Kyle C. Cavanaugh, Norman B. Nelson, Daniel C. Reed, Dmitry Fedorov, Christopher Moran, Jordan N. Snyder, Katherine C. Cavanaugh, Christie E. Yorke, Maia Griffith

The emerging sector of offshore kelp aquaculture represents an opportunity to produce biofuel feedstock to help meet growing energy demand. Giant kelp represents an attractive aquaculture crop due to its rapid growth and production, however precision farming over large scales is required to make this crop economically viable. These demands necessitate high frequency monitoring to ensure outplant success, maximum production, and optimum quality of harvested biomass, while the long distance from shore and large necessary scales of production makes in person monitoring impractical. Remote sensing offers a practical monitoring solution and nascent imaging technologies could be leveraged to provide daily products of the kelp canopy and subsurface structures over unprecedented spatial scales. Here, we evaluate the efficacy of remote sensing from satellites and aerial and underwater autonomous vehicles as potential monitoring platforms for offshore kelp aquaculture farms. Decadal-scale analyses of the Southern California Bight showed that high offshore summertime cloud cover restricts the ability of satellite sensors to provide high frequency direct monitoring of these farms. By contrast, daily monitoring of offshore farms using sensors mounted to aerial and underwater drones seems promising. Small Unoccupied Aircraft Systems (sUAS) carrying lightweight optical sensors can provide estimates of canopy area, density, and tissue nitrogen content on the time and space scales necessary for observing changes in this highly dynamic species. Underwater color imagery can be rapidly classified using deep learning models to identify kelp outplants on a longline farm and high acoustic returns of kelp pneumatocysts from side scan sonar imagery signal an ability to monitor the subsurface development of kelp fronds. Current sensing technologies can be used to develop additional machine learning and spectral algorithms to monitor outplant health and canopy macromolecular content, however future developments in vehicle and infrastructure technologies are necessary to reduce costs and transcend operational limitations for continuous deployment in an offshore setting.

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