Chesapeake Bay Oyster Monitoring Grand Challenge
Through environmental partnership, Northrop Grumman has developed an innovative method of remotely monitoring bay oyster reefs.
Save the Bay
Oyster restoration is key to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, as oysters are vital in helping clean water and providing the basis for restoring the bay’s natural ecosystem.
Unfortunately, the bay oyster population has declined for over a century. In response, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) supports a regional goal to plant 10 billion new oysters by 2025.
One of the primary conservation challenges is remotely monitoring oyster reefs across the Chesapeake Bay. Only a small fraction of reefs are monitored, and the CBF’s current methods of gathering data are both labor intensive and limited by weather and water conditions.
In partnership with the CBF, Northrop Grumman launched the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Monitoring Grand Challenge. Through the Challenge, our employees developed technology solutions for remote oyster reef monitoring that leveraged the best of our remote sensing capabilities and applied them to low-cost commercial hardware in an effort to improve conservation programs.
Putting Technology to Work to Save the Chesapeake Bay
Northrop Grumman Oyster Monitoring Capabilities
The CBF’s requirements for monitoring the oyster reefs included:
- Mapping and imaging oyster sanctuary reefs
- Collecting water chemistry data
- Obtaining health and development status data
- Providing actionable insights to the CBF on how to best deploy resources
During Phase 1 in 2019, more than 40 employees submitted 10 unique proposals. Five teams were selected as finalists to further develop and demonstrate their sensor technologies. Phase 2 in 2020 combined those five teams into two with a focus on further developing and integrating the sensors onto vehicle platforms and demonstrating remote operation capability. The teams worked in parallel to field their concepts during Phase 2 and ultimately delivered an operational capability to the CBF in 2022.
Through the use of the following technologies and off-the-shelf hardware, the teams aimed to develop capable solutions that met the parameters of the CBF’s annual operating budget:
- Acoustic monitoring
- Surface and underwater remotely-operated vehicles
- Image processing
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Northrop Grumman developed an integrated, multi-modal remote sensing system that utilizes sonar, acoustics, and visual mediums to identity and evaluate oyster reef habitats:
The ROV (remotely operated vehicle)
This BlueRobotics BlueROV2 is equipped with a state-of-the-art 3-D light field camera providing clear images and videos of oyster reef and habitats.
Acoustic Hydrophones (“bottles”)
This acoustic hydrophone allows us to listen to the oyster reef soundscape and evaluate the quality of the oyster habitat.
This towed sonar array helps us map the bottom by emitting sound waves that bounce off the seafloor back to a transmitter on the array. That data is then analyzed via machine learning to identify hard bottom suitable for oyster reef restoration.
Northrop Grumman is in the process of handing over the system to the CBF so they can continue to track oyster populations and the health of oyster reefs in the bay.
(Photo credit: Daniel Swartz & Vithaya Phongsavan)
In the News
Students of Sustainability
In Chesapeake oysters’ future: underwater drones, shellfish barges?
Northrop Grumman, CBF Test Oyster Monitoring New Tech
Illuminating the Bay with a SPARK
Clearing the Waters: Novel Combination of Imaging Tech and Algorithms
Scientists Search for Best Way to Restore Oysters in Chesapeake Bay
Northrop Grumman dives into Chesapeake Bay oyster reef monitoring
Northrop Grumman oyster monitoring at Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Northrop Grumman Teaming Up To Help Oyster Population Flourish
New Technology Improves Oyster Monitoring
This page was updated on 4/6/2022 to reflect current progress of the initiative.