FLOWBEC - FLOW and Benthic ECology 4D


The FLOWBEC project aims to improve the understanding of how the physical behaviour of the water such as currents, waves and turbulence at tide and wave energy sites influences the behaviour of marine wildlife, and how tide and wave energy devices might alter the behaviour of such wildlife.


The project is jointly funded by NERC and DEFRA

Grant number NE/J004332/1

Project Aims

  1. To improve understanding of the fine scale details of the flow regime in areas of high tidal and wave energy and the effects of Marine Renewable Energy Devices (MREDs) on flow conditions
  1. To assess the hydrodynamic habitat preferences of various relevant functional ecological groups (benthos, plankton, fish, birds & mammals), and how individual species may use preferred flow conditions for successful feeding, reproduction and other major biological activities.
  1. To parameterize the flowfield with and without the effects of both single and multiple MRED deployments and include the mechanistic links to ecological interactions that would enable their inclusion in wider area models and to be developed to allow predictions of large arrays of devices on the environment.


Paul Bell (NOC, Liverpool)      Philippe Blondel (U. Bath)      Angus Creech (U. Edinburgh)      Daniel Conley (U. Plymouth)
Graham Savidge (Queens U. Belfast)      Beth Scott (U. Aberdeen)      Lars Johanning (U. Exeter)     Ian Ashton (U. Exeter)
Ricardo Torres (PML)      Benjamin Williamson (U. Bath/U.Aberdeen)     James Waggit (U. Aberdeen)

Project Partners:       European Marine Energy Centre      Marine Scotland Science       OpenHydro Ltd.

Data Management:    British Oceanographic Data Centre (Sean Gaffney)

Project Progress

Work will be conducted at three marine renewable energy test sites - EMEC, WaveHub and Strangford Lough. A range of measurement and modelling systems will be used to to improve our understanding of the interaction of hydrodynamics and the wildlife found around them.

The view from the EMEC substation on Eday overlooking the Tidal Energy Test Site

The view from the EMEC substation on Eday overlooking the Tidal Energy Test Site. Photo by Paul Bell.

Summer 2013 - FLOWBEC frame deployments at EMEC tidal test site & wave test site

Two deployments of the frame were carried out at the EMEC tidal site led by the University of Aberdeen team – one within metres of the Atlantis Turbine Piling, and the other at a control site away from turbine infrastructure. Both deployments used a new mooring methodology that did not require trailing mooring lines and relied on an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to attach the recovery line – successful in both instances. Simultaneous radar and shore observations were made during the deployments, and data return for both two-week deployments has been excellent.

Following on from the success of the tidal site deployments, two further two-week deployments of the frame were carried out at the EMEC Billia Croo wave site using conventional mooring lines for deployment and recovery. The frame was successfully recovered both times and data return has been excellent. Simultaneous radar and shore based observations were made from this site too.

Summer 2013 - Benthic Survey using Drop-down Video Completed in Strangford Narrows

A spatially highly resolved benthic survey using a dropdown video system was successfully carried out in summer 2013 in the immediate vicinity of the SeaGen tidal turbine in the Strangford Narrows. The video data are currently being analysed by the Queens University Belfast team. A fine scale resolution model of flow around a conceptualised tidal turbine in a narrow strait has been developed and will be applied to SeaGen.

June 2012 - First FLOWBEC frame deployment at EMEC tidal test site

Researchers from the Universities of Bath and Aberdeen together with Marine Scotland Science have mounted two state-of-the-art sonar systems on a sea bed frame close to a tidal energy structure to monitor fish and other wildlife that pass through the area and how they interact with the installation. These sonars are normally operated from the surface looking down at the sea-bed. For the first time they have been adapted to operate autonomously for several weeks, imaging a full 'acoustic curtain' along the tidal flow and around the structure in a highly challenging environment.
The researchers are working together to identify the wildlife detected by the monitoring systems, how the various species preferentially use areas of water with different characteristics, and how the surrounding environment is affected by the presence of the structure.
The team deployed the sea bed frame for two weeks at the end of June 2012 and has now begun processing the data.

Link to press release on the successful deployment & recovery of the frame.

Beth Scott, Benjamin Williamson and James Waggit plan the frame deployment at the EMEC Tidal test Site Benjamin Williamson and Eric Armstrong prepare the frame for deployment

Above Left: Beth Scott, Benjamin Williamson and James Waggit plan the frame deployment at the EMEC tidal test site. Photo by Paul Bell
Above Right: Benjamin Williamson and Eric Armstrong prepare the frame for deployment. Photo by Beth Scott.

November 2011 - Radar Deployments

At the EMEC tidal test site on Eday a marine X-band radar coupled to a Wamos recording system has been deployed for the duration of the project. It produces images of the sea surface and anything on the water surface or in the air close to the surface over a range of a few kilometers and with a range resolution of 5-10m. Sample images from this system can be found by clicking the link in the 'Marine X-Band Radar' section below. We will also deploy a marine radar at Strangford Lough in Ireland later this year or early next year.

At WaveHub, the study site is 20km from the shore and is out of range for a shore based X-band radar. At this site a much longer range High Frequency WERA Radar is being used to map the currents and wave climate of the whole region on a 1km grid.

Marine X-Band Radar

X-band radar logo

A marine X-Band radar with 2.4m high speed antenna was deployed at the EMEC tidal test site substation during 2011. It is coupled to a Wamos recording system taking records of 256 images (about 5 minute sequence) every 15 minutes to a range of 4.8km. Summary images are sent back to the NOC via the internet and are updated on our servers approximately hourly.

The marine X-band radar summary images can be viewed using this link: View latest and archived images »


Publications & Conference Presentations

Scott, Beth; Philpott, Evelyn; Langton, Rebecca and Waggitt, James, 2012. Seabirds and marine renewables: Are we asking the right questions? The Environmental Interactions Of Marine Renewable Energy Technologies, EIMR International Conference, 1 - 3 May 2012, Kirkwall, Orkney.

Benjamin Williamson, Philippe Blondel, 2012. Multibeam imaging of the environment around marine renewable energy devices. European Conference on Underwater Acoustics (ECUA) 2012,  2nd - 6th July, 2012, Edinburgh, UK. The Powerpoint slides from this talk can be downloaded as a PDF here.

Bell, Paul; Lawrence, John; Norris, Jennifer. 2012 Determining currents from marine radar data in an extreme current environment at a tidal energy test site. In: Proceedings of the IEEE International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium 2012. IEEE, July 22-27 2012, Munich.

Proença, B., Conley, D. & D. Greaves, 2012, "Initial Evaluation of a WERA HF Radar as a Resource Assessment Tool for Wave Energy". Proc. Intl. Conf. on Ocean Energy, Dublin

Blondel PH & Williamson BJ 2013. Long term multibeam measurements around a tidal turbine test site in Orkney, Scotland. Proceedings of the Institute of Acoustics, Institute of Acoustics Spring Conference, Nottingham, 13 May 2013, Vol 35 Pt 1. p. 322-329.

Waggitt J.J., Lieber L. Williamson B.,Blondel Ph., Brierley A., Fernandes P.G., Jones C.S., Noble L.R.,Scott B.E. Novel uses of Hydroacoustic Methods to record fine-scale Predator-Prey interactions in marine habitats. Poster presentation at the MASTS ASM. 27th-29th August 2013. Heriot-Watt University Conference Centre, UK.

Waggitt J.J.,Williamson B.,Bell P.S.,Blondel Ph., Scott B.E. Understanding seabird behaviours in high energy habitats: concurrent collection of physical and biological datasets. Oral presentation at the MASTS ASM. 27th-29th August 2013. Heriot-Watt University Conference Centre, UK.

Ian G.C. Ashton, Joana Van Nieuwkoop, Helen C.M. Smith, Lars Johanning, George H. Smith, Detailed resource assessment, including intra-site variability, for marine renewable energy. In proceedings of the 10th European Wave and Tidal Energy Conference, Aalborg, Denmark 2-5th Sep 2013

Lopez, G., Conley, D.C., Greaves, D. and D. Magagna, 2013, "Adjusting an Empirical algorithm for Extracting Wave Height from HF Radar", In proceedings of the 10th European Wave and Tidal Energy Conference 2013, Aalborg, Denmark 2-5th Sep 2013

Waggitt J.J., Williamson B.,Bell P.S.,Blondel Ph., Scott B.E. Using a multi-disciplinary approach to quantify spatial overlap between deep diving seabirds and tidal stream turbines. Oral presentation at the ICES ASM. 23rd-27th September 2013. Harpa Conference Centre, Reykjavík, Iceland

Waggitt J.J, Allcock, Z.; Robbins A.M,C.; Wade H.; Bell, P.S.; Scott B.E.; Masden, E.A.; Jackson, A.C ;Furness, R.W. The importance of collaborative research when making government level decisions: an example with top predators and marine renewable energy installations. Oral/Poster presentation at the ICES ASM. 23rd-27th September 2013. Harpa Conference Centre, Reykjavík, Iceland

B.J. Williamson, P.S. Blondel, J. Waggitt, P.S. Bell, B.E. Scott (2013). FLOWBEC: Long-term measurements of the environment around marine renewable energy devices. Poster and short talk at the ICES Annual Science Conference, 2013.

Future FLOWBEC Related Talks:

Waggitt, J.J.; Williamson, B.J.; Blondel, Ph.; Bell, P.S.; Scott, B.E. Investigating seabird associations with fine-scale hydrodynamic processes: how do individuals search for foraging opportunities? Poster presentation at the Movement and Dispersal Conference to be held at Aberdeen University, 11-12 November 2013


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