Cullen Fellowship research on ocean observation technologies

Aoife Hegarty on a Weather Buoy at Lough Furnace. Photo Credit Damien GlynnAoife Hegarty is studying for a PhD through the Marine Institute's Cullen Fellowship Programme and the Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the University of Limerick.

"The research work is centred around investigating cabled observatory utilities and examining the potential to achieve similar capabilities from remote buoyed observatories and stand-alone platforms," explains Aoife, whose research is being jointly supervised by Dr Guy Westbrook of the Marine Institute and Prof Daniel Toal and Dr Edin Omerdic of the University of Limerick.

"The motivation for this research is to facilitate an end user requirement working towards demonstration of communications capability sufficient to enable real-time piloting of a mini-ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) through remote presence."

Due to changes in our ocean, such as acidification, changing circulation and ecosystems, having more sensors in the ocean will enable better measurement and management of Ireland's marine resource.Cullen Fellowship – Aoife Hegarty

Aoife says the research also aims to enable value added observation by increasing the footprint of cabled observatories, as well as enhancing stand-alone buoy utility. An important element of the work has been to construct a range of devices that make use of low-cost, open source technologies which, although relatively cheap, have been demonstrated to be reliable.

Aoife is due to complete her Cullen Fellowship at the end of August 2019. She says she has really enjoyed the chance to work on operations and on real-world problems and situations whilst being based at the Marine Institute.

"Being able to work on device development and deployment in the field, modelling and bench testing i.e. getting experience as to how the technologies work/survive in the ocean, has been one of the biggest benefits of being part of the Cullen Fellowship programme.

"I'd also add in as key benefits being able to learn from the experience of staff both within the Marine Institute and the Marine Offshore Services technicians (P&O Maritime) as well as leveraging funds through a successful NIAP (National Infrastructure Access Programme) funding application. Getting assistance from SmartBay and access to the Marine and Renewable Energy Test Site at Spiddal have also been pivotal to the success of the work to date."

Looking back on her time with the Marine Institute, Aoife says several experiences will stand out as the most memorable and challenging.Aoife on the Granuaile_Credit Edin Omerdic

"I'll always remember going out on the test site with the divers in the dive boat – when they plugged in the cable to the Observatory sub-sea bottle," she says. "And then being able to come ashore and talk to my gadgets on the buoy through the Observatory Network.

"I was so nervous that everything would not work okay and so over-excited when it did work. I was then able to send images back from the solar panels on the acoustic buoy through the radio/cable link and decode the images on the remote machine at the shore station.

"I loved going out on the rib as well to get my solar data from the SmartBay buoy. I got so much help, encouragement, advice and knowledge from all the Marine Offshore Services technicians throughout my project. I am extremely grateful to them all, particularly Damien Glynn who helped me tirelessly with everything. They are a brilliant team, they help each other and take an interest in every project."

The Cullen Fellowship programme builds national marine research capacity and capability and equips graduates with the skills and expertise in raising awareness about our ocean, as well as Ireland's rich marine biodiversity and ecosystems. The programme has provided grant aid to the value of €2.06 million supporting 24 PhD and three MSc students over the last five years. The research addresses a number of the 15 research themes identified in the National Marine Research & Innovation Strategy 2017-2021.

This project (Grant-Aid Agreement No. CF/14/07) is carried out with the support of the Marine Institute and funded under the Marine Research Programme by the Irish Government.


National Marine Research & Innovation Strategy 2017-2021: Published in 2017, the National Marine Research and Innovation Strategy 2017-2021 focuses on the broad topics identified in existing Government policies and strategies and provides a framework that recognises the complexity of research funding in the marine domain.