La Jolla Laboratory Replacement Project - Ocean Technology Development Tank

The Ocean Technology Development Tank: Pioneering Advanced Fisheries and Marine Mammal Survey Technologies

The new SWFSC laboratory in La Jolla incorporates a large sea- and fresh-water Ocean Technology Development Tank. This world-class facility expands NOAA’s ability to develop and apply advanced technologies for surveys of fisheries resources and their associated ecosystems and to foster collaborations on fisheries management issues.

The new facility enables the SWFSC to continue its pioneering work in the development and use of acoustical and optical technologies for non-lethal surveys of protected and managed species (mammals, fishes and turtles) and for the detection of near-surface fish schools (such as sardine) during ship-based surveys. The tank also supports ecosystem-based fisheries management through new and innovative uses of technologies, including novel platforms for deploying optical and acoustic sensors, such as inexpensive instrumented buoys and small craft, remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), gliders, untethered profilers, drifters and floats. This unique research facility will allow NOAA to create the next generation of technologies essential for achieving its current and future missions. It will also enhance collaborations with the community of scientists, both locally, at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and around the globe, to develop the next generation of fisheries and oceanographic instrumentation. An Ocean Technology Development Tank will provide a controlled environment to develop, test, and calibrate these technologies before deploying them on routine surveys or at remote locations at sea.

 SWFSC's Ocean Technology Development Tank PDF   

 Advanced Technology Platforms

SWFSC Advanced Survey Technologies Sensor and Platform Development - instrumented small craft, instrumented buoys and towed arrays, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles and Remotely Operated Vehicles.

 Meeting the Public Demand for Ecosystem Observations and Data

NOAA is experiencing an unprecedented demand for observational data to support resource and ecosystem assessments. More than ever before, there is a need for more surveys, addressing more species and more aspects of their ecosystems, on finer spatial and temporal scales. The supply of available survey vessel time has not increased in proportion, while the cost of using these vessels has increased dramatically. New technologies must be incorporated into our observation systems to meet the public demand for information to support natural resource management and conservation.  NOAA and the scientists at the SWFSC have a long history in the development and use of active-acoustics, passive acoustics, optics and instrumented platforms for surveys of a wide spectrum of species, habitats and applications. Examples of current and future applications of advanced technologies include:

  • Surveying marine mammals using towed acoustic arrays;

  • Estimating abundances of rockfishes over high-relief habitats without capturing or killing the fish;

  • Surveying broad areas of the Southern Ocean and estimating the abundance and distribution of Antarctic krill;

  • Detecting and classifying marine mammals and fish using the sounds they emit;

  • Describing migratory behavior and habitat use by marine mammals, turtles, pinnipeds, penguins and fish using autonomous instruments attached to the animals;

  • Enumerating salmon swimming upstream; and

  • Investigating fish response to passing survey vessels and traditional sampling techniques such as trawl nets.

The continued development of these advanced technologies will allow NOAA to conduct its mission more efficiently in terms of time and cost, less invasively to marine animals and their habitat, and in a non-lethal manner for fisheries and protected species surveys.

Forty-three Fathom bank

Acoustic-optical image of Forty-three Fathom Bank, off the coast of San Diego, used to identify and enumerate rockfish species and their habitat. The image was derived from data collected with SWFSC’s multi-frequency and multi-beam acoustic and remotely operated vehicle systems.
Learn more: Cooperative Optically-Assisted Acoustic Survey Technique (COAST) video 

One-of-a-Kind Facility to Develop and Test Advanced Technologies

The development and application of these technologies is rapidly escalating as electronic and optic components become smaller, more capable and less expensive, but construction of seawater tank facilities for testing and calibrating these new technologies in controlled environments is virtually non-existent. Although several facilities in the U.S. and abroad have some form of a test tank, no tank currently exists that has all the characteristics required to fully develop and make operational the advanced technologies essential for achieving NOAA’s current and future missions. The SWFSC Ocean Technology Development Tank will be the only large sea- and fresh-water test tank facility in the world with thermohaline control. It will fill the gap in developing and testing these technologies so they can be deployed to improve the quality, quantity and efficiency of NOAA’s research and monitoring operations.

 Multi- and single-frequency sensors

Multi-frequency split-beam and single-frequency multi-beam sensors are deployed from NOAA survey vessels to acoustically map the distributions and estimate the abundances and biomasses of coastal pelagic fishes such as sardine and anchovy; characterize their biotic and abiotic environments; investigate ecological linkages; and gather information about their schooling behavior, diel vertical migration, and avoidance reactions to the survey vessel. Three-dimensional images of fish schools are shown in green.

Learn more: California Current Ecosystem Survey 2006 Acoustic Cruise Reports

Ocean Technology Development Tank would be a National Resource

The tank planned for the SWFSC new La Jolla Replacement Project is of sufficient size (10m wide by 10m long by 20m deep) to calibrate and test a wide variety of instruments with minimal boundary effects. Water conditions can be controlled over a broad range of temperatures and salinities and the tank would be able to accommodate living marine animals. Examples of experiments that could be performed in the tank include: calibration and performance testing of transducer and hydrophone arrays; testing of underwater cameras, strobe and laser systems; testing of gliders, autonomous underwater vehicles, floats, drifters, tags and fishing nets; and characterization of the behavior of marine animals and their response to remote sensors. These capabilities will support scientists developing advanced survey technologies throughout NMFS and NOAA, as well as instrument developers from other national academic and government institutions.

Architect's rendition of test tank

Schematic of the Ocean Technology Development Tank which will be used for the development and testing of sensors, platforms and experiments with marine animals. Features: 10-m wide, 20-m long, 10-m deep; 2 million liters of fresh or seawater; thermohaline controlled; filtered, de-gassed and mixed.

Learn more: View a one minute video "fly through" of a schematic of the Ocean Technology Development Tank.

MP4 Video


Active-acoustic applications for fisheries:

Optical applications:

Passive-acoustics applications for marine mammals:

Biotechnology applications:


Last modified: 2/13/2015