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‘Maddie’ the current meter used in fascinating project

Posted 6 February 2023  |  News

As a leading manufacturer of hydrographic and oceanographic instruments, our technology is used for a wide variety of purposes, which includes gathering critical data about our coastal environments.

This, combined with our track record of supporting students with careers in manufacturing and oceanography, explains why we were delighted to hear from second-year Marine Biology Ph.D. student with details of her research project in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Self-funded student at the University of Aberdeen, Michelle, has recently spent six weeks collecting a large volume of valuable digital data on specimens, water filter samples, and photos and videos during her first field season.

We were pleased to support Michelle with the project by loaning her a Valeport Model 106 Current Meter – nicknamed by Michelle as ‘Maddie’ – to assist with data collection. Read on below to hear more from Michelle about the value her project will bring to the field.


Why is the data you’re collecting important?

As a self-funded student, my approach to the project is somewhat different to funded students who have both financial and logistical support from a doctoral training programme. The fieldwork I’ve collected was exceptionally important as there is very little existing data on the habitat I am studying, so it was really important that I could collect my own data. I have spent the months since my trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands returning to Aberdeen to image and identify the specimens I collected and begin to analyse the 500+ GB of digital data that was collected!

Can you tell us a little more about the project?

My project is looking at determining the biodiversity present in Caribbean coral rubble beds and hopefully using that information to establish the function of these ecosystems.

Coral rubble beds form from dead coral skeletons that are created due to natural events, such as storms, or because of human influence, such as anchor damage and climate change. As ocean temperatures increase, corals are put under more stress and mortality will unfortunately also increase. The consequence of increased coral death will result in more coral rubble beds being created and cause existing rubble beds to increase in size. Despite being comprised of dead skeletons the ecosystem contains hundreds of marine animals, many of which we know very little about; some of which we don’t even know exist yet. It is therefore exceptionally important that we document the organisms that use the habitat before it is irreversibly changed by humans.

So many factors influence marine ecosystems: temperature, ocean currents, proximity to human settlements, water depth, nutrient presence, to name just a few. It is important when determining differences in diversity of organisms to understand as many of these factors as possible. I can control most of them by collecting data from my field sites whilst I am collecting my specimens. Ocean current patterns, however, are more complicated as they require additional specialised equipment. Understanding local currents is essential to determine the connectivity between patches of coral rubble. There is existing data on large-scale currents in the Caribbean region, but small-scale variances are not well documented.  In order to collect that data for my specific field sites I needed to deploy a current meter in those locations – and that’s where Valeport came in!

How was your experience using the Valeport current meter?

Using the current meter was very straightforward. I tested the calibration and settings in our 5m pool before I left for the field, and it took me about 30 minutes to organise the settings I needed and view the outputs on my computer.

Deploying the current meter in the field was also easy. I did a test run with a buoy and weight system to ensure the meter would remain at a set height from the ocean floor and wouldn’t move with wave action. After the test run was successful, the meter was set in field locations and left for a minimum of 48 hours at a time. The meter can be deployed and left for a long time, but I wanted short bursts of data and then to move it to the next site and collect data from there.

"This is the beginning of a study in this habitat in this region but hopefully with continued support the research can continue and we can begin to understand more about the ecosystem and work to protect it." - Michelle Taylor

How do you plan to use the data collected by the current meter?

The current data I collected will be added to salinity and temperature data, as well as the biological data I collected to establish the big picture of conditions in my study site.

It is really important to be able to explain differences found in biodiversity by excluding physical differences. For example, if there is more fish in this area, is it because the current is different or because of something else? If the current is the same, I can look at other reasons why the differences exist.

All of this data will be collated and statistically tested to determine what is driving the differences I found. The work will make up my Ph.D. thesis as well as some journal articles that I hope to publish. This is the beginning of a study in this habitat in this region but hopefully with continued support the research can continue and we can begin to understand more about the ecosystem and work to protect it.

And lastly, why “Maddie” as a nickname for the current meter?

I decided on naming the current meter as I needed to put a sign on it explaining that it was a piece of scientific equipment in case other divers came across it. It also had a contact name and number in case the device became unattached for some reason and needed to be returned.

I’m not exactly sure why Maddie was the name I settled on, but the other piece of equipment that was deployed (a temperature and salinity meter) was named Lottie!

Scientific equipment (especially the current meter) can look very intimidating to people who are not accustomed to seeing it. I felt that if I named it and people saw her with a small note explaining why she was there and what she was doing it could help spread the word about the research to a wider audience.

We wish Michelle the best of luck with her Ph.D thesis and look forward to hearing the results of her research in the coming months.

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