The Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena (UPCT) is collaborating with the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Research Institute from California to use underwater robots in an experiment to measure and assess the influence of the water from the Mar Menor on the adjacent area of the Mediterranean.
This is the first underwater research project to use autonomous underwater vehicles in Spain, and will last from today until Saturday. The vehicles are from Spain and Portugal, and will analyse the water flowing in and out through the Canal del Estacio between the Mediterranean and the Mar Menor on the other side of La Manga.
Although the technical brief was a bit too much for a not particularly scientific brain to absorb, the basic purpose of all of this is to analyse the dispersion of the saltier water flowing outwards, as well as co-ordinating a team of underwater robotic equipment simultaneously.
Apparently, the Mar Menor contains 580 cubic hectometres of water and with three different inlets between the
Mediterranean and the Mar Menor, the renewal of water within the Mar Menor from the external Med would take 1.16 years.
The water flows in and out at the Canal del Estacio in the centre, Marchamalo to the south and Las Encañizadas to the north. There exists what the researchers call a "horizontal pressure gradient" due to the difference in sea levels ( in and out) which are forced by the tides. Wind action mixes the new water entering the Mar Menor with the water already inside.
The report says many species of marine life are unable to enter the lagoon because of this strong environmental gradient, which is mainly imposed by the increased salinity within, but many species which leave and move out into the Mediterranean adapt better to environmental change , ie global warning, because the environment from which they have come is a "stressed environment" with unique characteristics. This makes the Mar Menor almost like a natural laboratory to help scientists understand the type of changes which could occur in the future in larger water masses.
This robotic research will help the researchers track the dispersal of the water into the Mediterranean. Among the physicists, engineers, telecommunications and robotics specialists and other technicians on the research tem is Kanna Rajan, who led the team responsible for communications with the Mars Pathfinder vehicle during the NASA mission to the red planet.
As well as the oceanographic side of the project, there are also important technological elements in the development of coordination and decision-making systems in the use of autonomous underwater vehicles, and additional experts from the universities of Girona, Catalunya and Oporto will be taking part. Other researchers have been recruited from the Universidad Carlos III, the coastal observation team of the Balearics and the Marine Technology Centre in Vigo.
The full name of the project is the 'AUV 2011 Underwater Robotics Experiment in the Mar Menor Coastal Lagoon', and it falls within the strategic research program of the Plan de Ciencia y Tecnología de la Región de Murcia 2007-2011, as part of the preliminary work for the Observatorio Oceanográfico Costero de la Región de Murcia (OOCMUR).