Supporting Research at Heriot-Watt University & Expanding Our AIS Network in Scotland

in AIS, Research, Partnering by

FleetMon has a network of over 5,000 AIS receivers to guarantee the best coverage for our customers and partners. Our stations are installed at ports, ships, private buildings, and institutions. The group of AIS partners actively setting up stations worldwide has been built up over the last 15 years at FleetMon.

A new major project from FleetMon’s AIS team is a collaboration with Emily Hague, Ph.D. Researcher from the Marine Spatial Analysis Group at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. She studies the impact of underwater noise of shipping traffic on marine mammals in UK waters.

FleetMon supports Emily in her project with AIS data, covering the urbanized waterway Firth of Forth over a 5 year period. In return, she helped us to set up more AIS stations around the coast of Scotland.

Emily Hague during a mission aboard a research vessel. @Emily Hague

Emily Hague on Her Research Approach

Understanding and then subsequently monitoring and managing human activities in the marine environment is inherently challenging. Challenges include inadequate data, a limited understanding of environmental interactions within marine ecosystems, and the inherent complexities of managing species and activities that traverse multiple jurisdictions. To assess and understand the degree of impact or potential risk an activity poses, we first must know where and when that activity is taking place. For many ‘static’ actions, this information is relatively simple to obtain and characterise, but this is not true for all uses, especially ‘mobile’ activities. For example, vessel activity is highly mobile, so understanding the potential risk posed in space and time can be challenging. ‘Automatic Identification System’ (AIS) data can provide one piece of the data puzzle, providing information on the location, speed, direction, and destination of travel for vessels over a certain tonnage or length, working commercially, or carrying a certain number of passengers. In order to understand how AIS vessels contribute to the marine soundscape of the Firth of Forth, an urbanised waterway on the east coast of Scotland, we are using AIS data to model underwater noise based on ship type, length and speed of travel (in collaboration with and Styles Group Acoustics). We will compare the underwater noise from shipping traffic with known hearing thresholds of a number of marine mammals that frequent the Firth of Forth to better understand the potential impact of vessel traffic on marine life.

Dolphins in the Firth of Forth. ©Emily Hague
Emily listening to the underwater recordings. ©Emily Hague

Our AIS team, consisting of Sebastian Olias (AIS Network Manager), Juliane Retsch (AIS Network Administrator), and Laura Heinermann (AIS Network Support), answers every request for setting up a station personally. The contact to Emily originated from such a request via the form on our website. Emily also wanted to become an AIS partner of FleetMon at first.

Let’s Hear What the AIS Team Says About Emily

Back in September 2021, when we first met Emily, we realized what an enthusiastic researcher she is. Research curiosity is the central pillar of our cooperation with Heriot-Watt University and other institutions we support. Therefore, we can say there are no standard AIS partnership requests. Every single request gets a personalized answer.

Emily heard about FleetMon and the possibility of obtaining a FleetMon AIS station (receiver and antenna) from another AIS Partner she knew. She sent us her request with the location of a station. We evaluated the area and discussed the details of the AIS station equipment. The entire process is straightforward. The most important aspect is the suitability of the antenna location. That means the antenna needs a clear view of the sea (or inland waters), and the AIS receiver requires a stable internet connection and power supply. If these points are safe, a large part of the work is already done and only followed by some discussion about the required cable lengths for the antenna and network cable. Emily, as in our first contact, was well prepared so that we could ship the equipment very soon.

Not long after setting up the first AIS station, it became clear on both sides that we should extend the collaboration. Emily explained to us more about her research project at the Heriot-Watt University on the marine noise emissions in the Firth of Forth estuary and, thus, the impact of vessel traffic on marine mammals. She was looking for comprehensive AIS data from the Scottish littoral.

Remarkable is the universities’ advantage as FleetMon’s partners because we tailored the requested maritime data according to their requirements. Therefore, we examine the different options with our partners, like regular one-time data exports, live data streams, email reporting, API access, or storing the data on an SFTP server. Depending on your needs, we will discuss with you a personalized collaboration. However, we had to extend our terrestrial AIS network to provide Emily with high-resolution data for her noise model. Some protected areas in Scottland were covered just by AIS satellite signals.

Yet again, Emily’s commitment and dedication to searching for new locations for new AIS stations helped us to find new sustainable places. We evaluated the areas and agreed with Emily on the most beneficial ones for both parties. As far as the locations are set, we started shipping more stations and have set up together by now 10 AIS stations. More are in the pipeline.

We thank Emily for the perfect contribution and want to invite other universities and research institutes to reach out for a collaboration with FleetMon.

Together with Heriot-Watt University, we will now continuously expand our AIS network in Scotland. ©FleetMon

Research & Development at FleetMon

At FleetMon, we have not only created the world’s first vessel database, but we are also very passionate about research and development. We motivate scientists, institutes, and universities to use our powerful and customized API solutions and provide access to our historical vessel position database.

This project clarifies the importance of AIS data for research and development. We will continue to keep you informed about Emily’s research.