NTU scientists lead global research team on project to demystify oceans

SINGAPORE - The ocean makes up more than 70 per cent of the Earth's surface, but few know what lies beneath the deep blue sea.

Now, a team of nine researchers from around the world - led by scientists from the Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering - hopes to change that.

They are embarking on a project to collect oceanographic data such as temperature, salinity and the genetic sequences of microorganisms in the sea with the aim of monitoring the health of the ocean.

Microorganisms form the basis of all marine food chains and food webs, and so are clear indicators of the health of the sea. A project to detail the genetic sequence of such creatures has never been done before, and will therefore help fill a "data chasm".

The project will be carried out with the help of owners of sea vessels around the world, in a first-of-its-kind citizen science project tapping on sailors plying the more than 1,000 established sailing routes.

Oceanographic data is collected by an ice-box sized device installed on the deck of vessels. It will have a hose-like arm that stretches from the deck into the ocean - much like a fishing line trailing from the back of a boat.

This project was detailed in a scientific journal PLOS (Public Library of Science) on Sept 9. It is still in a preliminary phase, with the prototype being developed, but is expected to take off with about 20 vessels volunteering to take on the device in mid-2015.

The data collected will be uploaded on a digital platform, and will be freely accessible online.

For sea vessel owners, these will be no cost to join the project. The US$10,000 cost of the device will be paid for by the research team.

The research paper noted that there is an "urgent need" to make a place for "citizen scientists" in the scientific community.