To better understand coastal sea processes as well as to observe short and long-term changes due to anthropogenic influences, it is necessary to continuously observe coastal waters at different spatial and temporal scales.These changes can be local, such as through riverine input or they might only arise during a particular season.In order to observe and better understand changes, for example, stemming from eutrophication—that is, through intensive aquaculture use — or wind parks, regularly scheduled research cruises and autonomous measurement platforms such as buoys are employed.Using these means for monitoring, however, is very expensive and is often insufficient to precisely ascertain short-term events such as a local algae blooms, temporally and spatially.

Such observations can be carried out free of charge by incorporating ferries or cargo ships to obtain marine data. This approach also improves data collection in space and time.The notion to equip vessels that travel fixed routes with measurement instruments for researching the marine environment led to the development of the "FerryBox”.The “FerryBox” is a measurement system installed within the ship, a system in which seawater is continuously pumped past various sensors.The device is named after ferries, the first vessels on which they were put into operation.The ferries and cargo ships travel in nearly all weather conditions, so very few data gaps exist.Oceanographic parameters are measured, including water temperature, salinity, and turbidity as well as biogeochemical parameters, such as chlorophyll-a, oxygen, pH values and dissolved carbon dioxide.The system is fully automated, controlled using the respective position, and the measurements begin as soon as the ship leaves the harbour.In order to guarantee stable long-term operation, the system is equipped with an automated cleaning system to prevent algae and microorganisms from settling and to effectively prevent "biofouling" of the sensors.The measurement data is transferred in near real-time via mobile network or satellite to the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, Centre for Materials and Coastal Research (HZG).The data is streamed to the coastal observing system’s (COSYNA’s) database and is immediately made available via the internet to scientists worldwide.Such systems have meanwhile also been installed on research vessels as well as at fixed stations.The HZG currently has six FerryBoxes operating in the southern North Sea and the German Bight.


Film demonstrating operation and scientific uses of measurement systems on ferries and cargo ships, the FerryBoxes (Film: HZG).

Text, photos and graphics unless otherwise noted are under license of: | CC BY4.0 | Earth System Knowledge Platform – knowledge of eight research centres of the Helmholtz-Association