Professional Spotlight – Dr. Chris Harrod and Chilean Kelp Mapping

Professional Spotlight

The Professional Spotlight series is a deep dive into the global BioBase community where we highlight the unique ways sonar driven mapping is assisting research, conservation and sustainability.

The BioBase team sat down with Dr. Chris Harrod for a look into how he uses BioBase. Chris (from the UK) is a full professor of Fish and Aquatic Ecology at the University of Antofagasta in Antofagasta, Chile. He does a mixture of research, teaching, and administration tasks but our interest with him was the applied research techniques for which he was using BioBase. His research is focused on a macroalgae called kelp (aka seaweed) and its importance as a source of food/energy to fish and invertebrates in the coastal zone. He is also interested in how kelp can function as habitat, food, an anchor of sediment and even slow the turbulent waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Chris was introduced to BioBase through his long-term mentor Dr. Ian Winfield.  Some of Dr. Winfield’s work correlating Arctic Charr with BioBase-assessed bottom hardness was highlighted several years ago in this blog. When asked why he chose BioBase, Dr. Harrod said “Finding money in research is hard so the free EcoSound Habitat Plus Government Subscription was a big factor in the decision to go with BioBase.”  The low cost of the Lowrance kit vs other echosounder bathymetry products, and “the ease of use and really good resolution” were other factors that helped weigh in the decision to use BioBase.

Chris’s research on the ecological importance of kelp is a function of his location. Antofagasta is in an arid part of Chile that is largely impacted by coastal upwelling and climate patterns such as El Niño and La Niña. The kelp seen here looks and functions differently than the kelp in the North Pacific Ocean; the kelp off the coast of Antofagasta grows like low-lying bushes due to constantly moving currents that would uproot the tall stalks typically observed along other North Pacific coastlines. Chris is using BioBase to assess the macroalgae, depth distribution, biovolume and later, will extend his use to characterizing plant growth in freshwater lakes across Chile. The goal of his current research is to help reconstruct the past climate and ecology of the coastal zone (and the humans who lived here up to 12 000 years ago) by using stable isotope analysis to explore the importance of the macroalgae in both ancient and modern food webs.

Macroalga Lessonia
Example of macroalga lessonia spp.
Kelp Detected With Sonar
Screenshot of a sonar unit showing kelp
Kelp Detected With Downscan
Kelp Detected on Downscan sonar

On using BioBase, Chris states “it’s a game changer, like getting a car when you’ve never had one” due to the far greater area he can map than he can cover with diving. He is also using BioBase to help target his diving trips to improve safety, efficiency, and effectiveness. “We need to get to the various congresses and conferences and show these results and get them onboard due to the long-term benefits of kelp to food webs, habitat, aquaculture, and carbon sequestration.”

Depth Contour with Boat Track
Biovolume Map
Biovolume Map
Hardness Map
BioBase Bottom Composition hardness map

When asked what features he found most attractive with BioBase his response was simple: “all of it” and explaining further “the way you can capture multiple layers at the same time, as well as compare grid and point data are all very intuitive.” The ease of explaining data with a map also helps acquire funding, and explain his findings to the world, “show them a map and they understand it, show them a table with numbers and they won’t understand it.”

Chris had a few suggestions for future tools for BioBase but was surprised when some of the features he wished BioBase had were already available to him. For example, the ability to track surface water temperature and pull that data from BioBase using the export feature is already available on the platform. As such, he promptly plotted an interesting spatial pattern of within-day water temperature change along his study plot (see below)

Water Temperature Map
BioBase Feature – Water Temperature Data

BioBase is a central pillar of Navico’s sustainability mission, so we asked how would working with BioBase impact the area and the community in Antofagasta? The work Dr. Harrod is doing not only looks at the current macroalgae of the environment, but he is also trying to understand the impact it had over the last 10,000 years. There is a move in the area for people to recognize their ethnic background and traditions, helping anthropologists understand this and create baseline data to understand the bigger picture and the ecosystems involved. Not only are they looking at the past they are also looking at the future; copper mining is a major industry in the area and desalinization plants are being built in the area for mining and understanding the environmental impact they have on macroalgae specifically the kelp in Antofagasta.


You can follow Chris’ adventures on Twitter at @chris_harrod or Click Here

Chris’s work (including the purchase of the Lowrance echo-sounder) with BioBase is kindly funded by ANID Fondecyt Regular 1191452.





Author: biobasemaps

BioBase is a cloud platform for the automated mapping of aquatic habitats (lakes, rivers, ponds, coasts). Standard algorithms process sonar datafiles (EcoSound) and high resolution satellite imagery (EcoSat). Depth and vegetation maps and data reports are rapidly created and stored in a private cloud account for analysis, and sharing. This blog highlights a range of internal and external research, frequently asked questions, feature descriptions and highlights, tips and tricks, and photo galleries.

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