All About the NFSD


The NERC Facility for Scientific Diving (NFSD) at SAMS provides divers, equipment, training and scientific/technical support that underpins a wide range of interdisciplinary research in the underwater environment. The service delivers practical support for diving related underwater scientific projects through providing additional manpower for groups with limited diving experience, total project management for scientists with no diving experience and/or specialist equipment loans for groups with diving experience but limited resources.

In addition, the Facility undertakes to ensure proper adherence to Health and Safety legislation as applied to diving at work activities. This can be through targeted training programmes, communicating advice and guidance for senior management with legal responsibilities for diving at work, undertaking safety audits on behalf of the NERC Health and Safety management structure and facilitating a wider interactive dialogue with others in the higher education field and the Health and Safety Executive.

The NFSD is the main service provider and the major supporter of research within the UK that involves scientific diving through: support and maintenance of an extensive underwater research programme; support for the UK Scientific Diving Supervisory Committee (SDSC); interactions with other diving industry bodies; ongoing diving research and evaluation programmes; and a focussed training programme for scientists and technicians involved with working underwater. In addition to diving services per se, the NFSD also provides support and training in associated small boat operations and in emergency diving medicine.

Scientific Diving

Scientific diving at work can be described as any diving operation undertaken in support of science. Because of this, the tasks undertaken under the scientific code can vary markedly. Below are some examples of diving projects that are typical of those supported through Scientific Diving.

Underwater photography

Photography can be used underwater to better illustrate an event or process or for more detailed analysis. Modern underwater photography uses high resolution digital cameras, which permit the effect of exposure settings to be reviewed in-situ and also allow for massive photo storage.

Photogrammetry (SfM MVS)

Stereophotogrammetry generates detailed, measurable 3D models from collections of 2D images. It is most widely used in aerial survey for cartographic purposes. Stereophotogrammetry can be used underwater to ‘capture’ objects and specimens for later digital analyses, conduct holistic surveys under challenging visibility and perform long-term rugosity and volumetric measurements.

Specimen collection

Using divers to collect biological specimens from the underwater environment has many advantages over surface-based collection methods. The use of divers over trawls or grabs is that they are not destructive and also only take the minimum number of specimens required. More advanced collection techniques, such as the use of anaesthetics underwater, allow specimens to be captured, measured, sometimes tagged, and replaced to the exact location of capture. In a similar way, the measurement of some plants and animals can be made in-situ underwater without the need to destroy them through retrieval to the surface.

Static underwater video

The presence of divers underwater can disturb or interrupt natural events. In order to construct longer term analyses of events, static underwater video equipment is deployed. The equipment can either store the images self-contained or transmits the images to the surface through umbilicals. The use of time-lapse can prolong the operation; infra-red cameras can record both at night and day. Correct positioning of the cameras by divers is often an essential component of the study. Divers can also maintain the equipment underwater meaning that the apparatus does not have to be come to the surface each time.

Underwater survey

Diver-based underwater surveys are often used to quantify biological communities or single species over defined areas. There are advantages and disadvantages to using divers for survey work, and there are many different forms and approaches to conducting the surveys

Benthic coring

Benthic cores contain a lot of information about the receiving environment and the impacts on it. Sometimes the cores are taken for pollutant analysis, sometimes to assess the bioligcal community within the benthos, and at other times in order to make physico-chemical measurements on the cores post-collection. The advantages of using divers to core by hand is that they can be precise on where the cores are taken from and the level of disturbance is less than if some form of surface deployed corer was used.

Coral coring

The longevity of coral reef development and the processes that go into that development make coral reefs ideal sources for proxy studies of the long-term climatic record. The length of core is correlated to the time record and analysis of changes within the core can determine indirectly the climatic conditions at that point. Divers are used to drill into coral heads in order to minimise disturbance and guarantee the quality of the core.

Equipment deployment

Often divers are employed in support of science simply to deploy, maintain and/or retrieve monitoring equipment underwater. By attaching the equipment to permanent or long-term moorings using divers means that the whole mooring does not have to be lifted each time. If a large surface vessel is required for this lifting process then it can be expensive. Continual deployment and recovery of moorings can impact the sea floor in vulnerable areas.

Team Members

Dr Martin Sayer

Head of the

National Facility for Scientific Diving

Simon Thurston

Dive Technician

Hugh Brown

Dive Technician

Elaine Azzopardi

Dive Technician

Dr Andrew Mogg

Dive Technician

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