Surveying the great south

The Royal Australian Navy has been engaging in a world first as part of a 10-week maritime survey mission in waters off South Australia.

The work underway in the Gulf of St Vincent and Spencer Gulf will be used to update existing nautical charts, increasing marine safety which has a direct flow on effect to maritime environmental protection.

To achieve its mission to chart one-eighth of the world’s surface, the Australian Navy has adopted an impressive range of technologies to improve navigational data.

The work is being carried out by the Cairns based Survey Ship HMAS Leeuwin in conjunction with the Royal Australian Navy’s Laser Airborne Depth Sounder Flight, which employs a specially modified Dash 8 aircraft to survey the ocean floor efficiently.

Commanding Officer of the Flight, Lieutenant Commander Mark Matthews said the capability unique to the Australian Navy.

“The system was developed in South Australia and uses a scanning laser mounted in the aircraft to measure seafloor depths, collecting hydrographic survey data and depth information,” he said.

“The Flight is particularly suited to shallow coastal and complex reef areas where it would be less safe and inefficient for our survey ships to operate.”

The aircraft typically conducts five by seven-hour sorties each week, and when surveying it operates at an altitude of about 500 metres, flying a series of parallel lines to efficiently cover large areas, covering more than 40 square kilometres per hour and measures depths of up to 80 metres.

“The Flight has spent much of its operational life around the Great Barrier Reef and in the Coral Sea and is now expanding its operations,” Lieutenant Commander Matthews said.

“This means we can bring the safety and efficiency of an airborne system to large and complex areas of the ocean.”

The survey work in South Australia will continue until 30 June 2017.