PhD Studentship - Subsea RANGERS: Subsea ROV/AUV - based Nextgen Geotechnical suRveyS - School of Engineering

University of Southampton

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Position type:

Full time

16 Jan 2020
31 Aug 2020

Full details:

Reference number: SOU-1228520DA

Supervisor:                 Susan Gourvenec

Co-supervisor             David White


Project background:

The viability of offshore energy developments – whether for hydrocarbons or renewables – is increasingly dependent on reliable characterisation of the very shallow subsurface, to assure the integrity of cables, pipelines, and the ‘subsea factory’ of seabed-founded equipment. Meanwhile, remote and autonomous vehicles are rapidly gaining improved capabilities, including the adoption of improved robotic manipulation technology and intelligent sensing.

At the convergence of these twin trends lies the opportunity to disrupt seabed survey practice and establish a new paradigm for how we characterise the shallow seabed. Conventional practice is to probe and sample the seabed via a drillship, which is a costly business. A future vision is for the drillship to be eliminated and seabed probing and sampling to be conducted entirely via ROV – or in future AUV – technology. This remote approach will increase efficiency, reduce the human risk exposure, reduce fuel use and environmental impact, and create a new capability to characterise the ocean floor.

We have made early progress to embrace robotics and intelligent sensing in geotechnics via the RIGSS (Remote Intelligent Geotechnical Seabed Surveys) Joint Industry Project (led by David White, who will co-supervise this project), using a conventional seabed frame as the survey platform and developing intelligent survey tools. This PhD project will extend this work considering ROV and AUV platforms, in pursuit of the vision outlined above.

Project hypothesis and scope:

We are seeking a motivated student to tackle this challenge. Your project hypothesis is “How can shallow seafloor characterisation be best achieved using devices deployed by ROV/AUV, and how does this complement or replace current practices?”

Your PhD project will build on the supervisors’ existing experience with novel lightweight geotechnical survey tools, to establish both the hardware and scientific interpretation tools to unlock seabed surveys that are adequate for cables, pipelines and subsea facilities. 

Limitations in energy reserves, buoyancy and reaction forces combined with requirements for practical depths of sampling and probe penetration set the boundaries for these next generation geotechnical tools. You will explore novel reaction solutions and smart modifications of conventional penetrometers – both in terms of shape and actuation method –  building on recently developed concepts such as rotating (rather than pushing) devices, and utilising next generation manufacturing techniques for sensing. You will undertake geotechnical modelling – numerically and via small scale pilots– to test and verify the performance of the new devices. 


Maritime Engineering at UoS is co-located with Lloyd’s Register’s Marine division on the Boldrewood Innovation Campus providing the opportunity for this project to include development of design guidance for the integrated geoscience approach to seabed survey. 

This project is funded through a Royal Academy Chair of Emerging Technologies in Intelligent & Resilient Ocean Engineering. 


Prerequisites and applicant skills:

A First Class Degree in Civil, Maritime or Ocean Engineering. 


Closing date: applications should be received no later than 31 August 2020 


Funding: full tuition fees for EU/UK students plus for UK students, an enhanced stipend of £15,009 tax-free per annum for up to 3.5 years. 


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