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Environmental Physics and Autonomous Technology



CTD rosette Welcome to the web pages of the Environmental Physics and Autonomous Technology research area at SAMS. This group comprises physical oceanographers, polar physicists and technologists. The activities of the department are driven by making observations of the physical marine environment. These observations of process and change are underpinned by technological developments of sensors, platforms and communications and supported with a hydrodynamic modelling capability.

The basis of the department is our ability to make observations of the ocean and so the technology of observation underpins much of what we do. The mission of the Marine Technology Group is to improve ocean observations by developing new technologies and also by applying existing technologies to problems in novel ways. The group's particular expertise lies in the development and deployment of sub-surface, surface and above-surface robotic platforms with real-time communication with the project scientist. Recently, much of this work has been for polar observation and the group has a great deal of experience in the design, construction and deployment of sensors and platforms for these regions.

In the realm of the hydrosphere, we have research projects that span from fjordic and shallow coastal waters into the deep oceans and the oceanic exchanges that occur with and between the Atlantic and the Arctic. We study the transport and mixing of water on a range of space and time scales. A common theme is the flow over topography and the stirring and mixing of the ocean that results.  We also use fjords as ocean process laboratories with the aim of developing the fundamental understanding of mixing processes within fjordic 'ocean laboratories'. Much of this work is developed in high resolution models of the key mixing processes.

In the polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctic, our current research interests include the dynamics and thermodynamics of the sea-ice/ocean interface in the marginal ice zone, surface energy balance, mixing processes in Arctic system, variability in the upper ocean heat and fresh water distribution, and the detection of oil under sea ice. We endeavour to establish the nature and magnitude of the changes that are taking place, with special relevance to their influence on natural and anthropogenic climate change.

Professor Stuart Cunningham


Physical oceanography

Great Race Eddies - SAMSThe Physics Group is the largest within the PSIT Department, currently comprising ten staff and four PhD students.

We have developed areas of research and expertise which combine observations of physical process, observations of change over interannual scales and capabilities for computer modelling.


  • Measurements of turbulence and mixing in fjords, coasts and the ocean using Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), free-falling profilers and automated profiling floats.
  • Observations of oceanic processes using autonomous gliders, mooring deployments and surveys from research ships. (View 'Go with the Flow' video from our NACLIM/OSNAP 2014 cruise)
  • Linking the coupling between physical and biological processes in the arctic under sea ice using multi-parameter moorings.


  • Numerical models of Scottish Coastal waters at varying levels of resolution to resolve exchange and mixing properties in strongly tidal waters.
  • Models of overflowing oceanic waters in the key constriction zones between ocean basins.
  • Simple fjord box models to interpret the changes in past climate observed in marine sediment cores retrieved from fjord basins.


Polar physics

Polar physics

Sea ice research at SAMSThis group studies the oceanic, atmospheric and sea-ice processes that drive variability in the high latitude oceans over a broad range of spatial and temporal scales, and which govern interactions between the ocean and atmosphere, and between the polar oceans and lower latitudes.  It also works at the interface between disciplines, with research projects in biological systems and marine geology/geochemistry.

As the high latitude ice/ocean/atmosphere system is highly coupled and traditionally difficult to access, the Department has a history of strong international and cross-disciplinary collaborative links and has developed expertise using data from a broad range of research platforms, including ships, autonomous underwater vehicles, drifting platforms and satellites.

Members include


Marine Technology Group

Dave Meldrum in Canadian ArcticThe Marine Technology Group has a long history of developing, building and deploying innovative instrumentation in remote and difficult environments. The work of the group is often done in support of the science of other groups within SAMS and elsewhere. In addition the group also undertakes work for its own projects which are concerned with developing promising technologies for applications in marine science.

The group works towards an optimal marine observing network. Specific developing areas are focussing on sensor optimisation, smart in situ data processing, platforms and communications.

The group is also actively engaged in the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland which aims to increase collaboration in projects between other member institutions.

The Marine Technology Group has a number of areas of particular expertise: A long-standing area of work has been the development of a variety of drifting buoys. A typical application is for tracking of sea-ice movements and high resolution tracking of coastal currents. These buoys have combined technologies such as GPS, satellite communications and advanced low power microprocessors in order to collect a wide range of environmental data sets from the oceans and the poles. The group is also becoming experienced in designing and building various platforms for sea-ice installations. This work includes novel sensing techniques and the mechanical design of robust and easily deployable buoys which can withstand severe conditions in sea-ice. Another area of considerable activity is sensor integration onto existing platforms such as autonomous vehicles and moored profilers.

Many of the designs which come out of the groups work are suitable for commercialisation. This has proven successful on a small scale and is an area which is being developed such that many of the group's products can be sold or out-sourced.

The facilities for technology development at SAMS are very good. The group benefits from modern computer-aided-design software and has well equipped laboratories. For polar installation testing the group has recently built a large cold room to simulate Arctic and Antarctic conditions. For sea trials both the rough Scottish seas and the sheltered lochs provide excellent testing grounds.

The Marine Technology Group continues to be busy and lively and is enjoying considerable successes with the equipment it is producing. New avenues of activity are always being pursued and these presently include novel pollution sensors and glacial lake monitoring. The opportunities for applying the group's talents seem to be extensive and the challenges are both endless and tantalising.

The group currently comprises

Robotics Facility


Scottish Marine Robotics Facility

Please visit the Scot-MRF pages....

  • Gliders @ North Atlantic Glider Base
  • Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
  • ROVs
  • Landers
  • Data telemetry capabilities
  • Drifting buoys
  • Ice platforms
  • Remotely piloted aircraft
Contact us
Scottish Marine Institute
Oban, Argyll, PA37 1QA
T: 01631 559000
F: 01631 559001