Science Diary – 24 May 2006

Focus for today:

Post-expedition data analysis.

Target key stage:

Key Stage 4: Double Award Applied Science; Developing Scientific Skills (Carrying our Practical Tasks, Recording and Post-expedition data analysis).

Key information:

During the 3 weeks of this expedition, a huge amount of data has been gathered by the scientists. Due to time and resource constraints, only limited data processing can be conducted onboard the ship. A post-expedition report will be written soon after the completion of the expedition, but more detailed analysis will take longer. The scientists broadly fell into 4 different teams: 1) benthic survey 2) fish survey 3) ground-truthing and 4) CASI operations.

Benthic surveyors: Annelise and Phil, and Fish surveyors: Ray and Frederique
Benthic surveyors: Annelise and Phil, and Fish surveyors: Ray and Frederique

Following the expedition, the benthic survey photo transect data will be analysed using specialised computer software. This will allow us to calculate percentage cover of different categories, for example; live coral cover, macroalgae, sand and rubble. This gives us an idea of the health of the reef at the present time and can be used as ‘baseline’ data against which to compare future surveys (to assess change over time).

Benthic surveyors: Ben and Martin
Benthic surveyors: Ben and Martin

Fish survey data will be catalogued and analysed to form both a species list of the survey area and to assess the size of different fish species present. This is important in deciphering fishing pressures on the reefs at different sites (if there are no large fish of a particular species, this would imply heavy fishing). The fish data will be related to the benthic data in order to ascertain the way in which different reefs support different fish communities. Analysis of both benthic and fish surveys should be completed within a few months following the expedition.

The unstoppable Ground Truthers: Bernhard, Beth and Sam
The unstoppable Ground Truthers: Bernhard, Beth and Sam

The ground-truthing team works closely with the CASI team, both during the expedition and after. Over the next 6 months, the CASI team will ‘pre-process’ their data to make sure it is of sufficiently high quality, before handing it over to the ground-truthing team. The ground-truthing team are essentially the crux of the expedition as they are the ones who will be using the CASI data in conjunction with their ground-truthing data to achieve our overall expedition aim – to make large-scale marine habitat maps of the Farasan Islands. The results from the benthic and fish surveys will be integrated into these maps, giving a high level of information on a small scale. The production of these maps will take at least 1 year.

The CASI operations team: Herb and Jeff
The CASI operations team: Herb and Jeff

Clearly there is need for efficient collaboration between all teams of scientists following the expedition. Although the ultimate aim of the expedition is to produce habitat maps of the Farasan Islands in order to improve the management of this protected area, this can only be achieved over a significant time period. In the interim, scientific journal papers will be written by the team in order to communicate our findings to the wider scientific community.

Question for students/food for thought:

With regard to post-expedition data analysis and write-up, what problems may arise when working with such an international team? How might we best overcome these problems?

Can you think of a time when you have conducted a large-scale project using different teams of people to collect different data sets – how did you bring this data together to achieve an overall goal?

Additional information:

The benthic survey team have conducted 58 photo transects and the fish survey team have conducted 27 surveys during the expedition. The ground-truthing team have collected 1,024 ground-control points and have obtained 138 km of bathymetric and current data. The CASI team have flown for 14 days and collected 2,700 km2 of data. That’s a lot of data to process!

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