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The University of Southampton
Intelligent & Resilient Ocean Engineering – Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies

Research project: Technical, Legal and Policy Considerations for Critical Cable Infrastructure Monitoring

Currently Active:

This project will seed new research that establishes the technical, legal and policy status of applying Southampton’s emergent seabed survey technology to cable security and environmental monitoring. The project is funded by the Southampton Marine & Maritime Institute (SMMI) through HEIF seed funding.

UKRI Research England

Subsea communication cables carry more than 95% of global internet traffic, providing a service that is critical for UK business, society and national security. Individual cables are just 2cm in diameter with a multi-decadal service life, and it is essential to protect them from damage and also understand the physical interactions they have with the subsea environment.

Technology developed by researchers at the University of Southampton’s Department of Civil, Maritime and Environmental Engineering working closely with industry partners at Sonardyne International Limited could be used to visually inspect subsea cables and their surrounding area and automatically detect change. This project establishes the technical, legal and policy status of applying Southampton’s emergent seabed survey technology to cable security and to monitoring of the interactions cables have with the environment.

The combination of sub-centimetre resolution 3D colour imaging of the seafloor using Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) and accurate underwater navigation using sensors for localisation and terrain aided navigation allows for geo-tagging of imagery that is suitable to detect small changes on the seafloor. When combined with machine learning (ML) algorithms that can automatically highlight these changes, vast seafloor regions can be rapidly scanned to highlight natural scenes or artificial objects that have been physically disturbed with minimal time between data acquisition and generating human awareness of this change. The technology building block to achieve regular, highly targeted and reliable change detection exists: the challenge is to extend these capabilities to address cable surveillance and facilitate scalable, long-term monitoring, and to understand and overcome the technical, legal and policy implications and barriers.

This project will

  • explore and seek to extend the technical limitations of existing AUV platforms to provide long range, long duration autonomous visual survey of submarine cables, and identify the key design requirements and technical barriers to realise such a system for real-world monitoring scenarios.
  • explore policy enablers that surround policing of these critical infrastructure, and investigate how robust evidence can be gathered regarding their environmental interactions.

These technical, legal and policy challenges apply to many other arenas, including surveillance of other subsea assets outside territorial waters such as wrecks (which may be war graves), seabed mining deposits and seabed listening stations (both civilian and military).

Critical cables
Automatic detection of subsea cables

Who’s involved:

The project brings together researchers from engineering, law and public policy, and industry partner Sonardyne, to address the technical, legal and policy aspects needed to protect critical subsea infrastructure and understand how to monitor the long term environmental interactions of the cables.

Blair Thornton and Adrian Bodenmann are from Maritime Engineering and Susan Gourvenec and David White are from Infrastructure, within the School of Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences. Blair Thornton is Professor of Marine Autonomy, and holds an EPSRC Fellowship for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence in the Marine Environment. Adrian Bodenmann is a Research Fellow whose interests are focussed on visual seafloor mapping. He has co-developed underwater mapping devices using laser scanning for photographic survey of the bottom of the ocean and developed an algorithm for converting the collected data into three dimensional digital reconstructions. Susan Gourvenec is Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies in Intelligent & Resilient Ocean Engineering , with technical background in offshore geotechnical engineering. David White is Professor of Infrastructure Engineering, with technical background in seabed geotechnics, site investigation and image analysis.

Robert Veal is a Lecturer in the Law School at Southampton and member of the Institute of Maritime Law. Robert's research focuses on regulatory and liability issues pertaining to the use of autonomous and remote-control technology in the offshore environment. Andrew Serdy is Professor of Public International Law and Ocean Governance with particular research interests in continental shelf and other maritime delimitation, and technical and institutional aspects of the law of the sea.

Wassim Dbouk is SMMI Maritime Policy Officer, specialising in creating and delivering policy engagement opportunities for researchers. Wassim holds a PhD in marine environmental law, with particular focus on sustainable development and the law and policy influencing the topic of liability for transboundary harm.

Darryl Newborough is Technical Director at Sonardyne. Darryl’s career with Sonardyne began in 2002 as a development engineer. During his time with Sonardyne, Darryl has held a variety of senior engineering leadership positions leading up to his appointment as Director of Subsea Development in 2010. Throughout this time, he has been instrumental in maintaining Sonardyne’s enviable reputation for innovation and performance, a reputation that now extends far beyond acoustic navigation into inertial, optical and sonar technologies. Darryl holds a number of patents, a PhD, is a Bachelor of Engineering, is a Chartered Engineer, a Member of the Institute of Engineering Technology and Institute of Directors.


Sonardyne is an independent British owned international organisation at the forefront of acoustic, intertial, sonar and optical subsea technology development, with a history of over 45 years in underwater communication and navigation and over 300 employees in its global offices. Sonardyne is committed to investment in new and emerging technologies.

Floating Offshore Wind Riser Cable Inspection Technology

This robot design formed a group design project for final year engineering students at the University of Southampton, supervised by Profs Blair Thornton and Dave White .

Find out more here .

Related research groups

Infrastructure Group
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