Today scientists at the Centre of Scientific Diving of the Biological Institute Helgoland start a project that is unique thus far for the North Sea: "MarGate", an innovative underwater experimental field.
In future, scientists want to acquire marine biology data with a high resolution in terms of time and space there by means of state-of-the-
art sensor technologies. These data will then be available online via the Internet. For instance, climatically and anthropogenically induced changes in the hydrography and ecology of the North Sea will be examined in order to gain a better understanding of and be able to model the mechanisms of changes in the ecosystem due to climate change.
"MarGate" is part of the COSYNA oceanographic research infrastructure coordinated by the GKSS Research Centre Geesthacht and financed within the research field "Earth and Environment" of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres. In addition to the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association, several nearshore research centres and universities in Germany are involved. This will result in creation of modern infrastructure enabling multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary work in coastal areas.
"Due to the unique location of Helgoland far from the German coast, in the middle of the North Sea, which is strongly influenced by climate change, we see the island as a strategic "hot spot" for marine research," states PD Dr. Philipp Fischer, scientific head of the Alfred Wegener Institute Centre of Scientific Diving and fish ecologist at the Biological Institute Helgoland. "The project gives us the opportunity to conduct experiments not only in the laboratory, but also under water directly in the North Sea over longer periods - which was previously possible only with the help of large and expensive research vessels," explains the dedicated scientific diver. "The island of Helgoland as the site offers us unique opportunities,
" Prof. Karen Wiltshire, director of the Biological Institute Helgoland that belongs to the Alfred Wegener Institute, is pleased to say.
To be able to meet the research demands of the scientists, the "MarGate" experimental field will be equipped with state-of-the-
art technology. In cooperation with GKSS there will be underwater high-speed data line connections, so-called "data nodes", at which - as in the laboratory - measuring equipment and sensors or probes can be hooked up and remote controlled via the Internet for longer periods of time. Plans include, for example, recording small crustaceans automatically in their habitat with a zooplankton camera and at the same time obtaining information on the temperature and salt concentration of the water and the distribution of nutrients. This combination of continuous measurements opens up new ways of recording material flows in the sea and analysing food webs.
Thought has also been given to the power supply. Underwater sockets as well as diverse methods for storm-proof positioning of scientific equipment under water, even at wind force 12, will be tested and developed there in future. "We see MarGate only as the first step of a necessary development in taking marine research to where life in the sea takes place, namely under water," says Fischer. To implement such a project not only scientifically but also in practice, however, first the basic structures have to be installed now. Concrete tetrapods, each weighing six tons, will be put in place at a water depth of up to ten metres. This is made possible by good cooperation with construction companies and engineers that are able to provide the structures and position them precisely under water.