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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities
Brief summary: 
New seismic and hydrophone data from the North Atlantic seafloor contain 19 months of continuous baleen whale vocalisation recordings and will be used to detect, track and study the migration patterns of the animals.
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
Populations of some great baleen whale species have been recovering, after decades of depletion previously. Yet, other species remain on the brink of extinction. Recordings of the vocalisations—the songs—of the whales offer valuable information on their populations. There exist numerous recordings of various species made by hydrophones, but these are typically short-term or discontinuous. In 2018-2020, the project SEA-SEIS ( collected 19 months of continuous, 3-component seismic and hydrophone data on the North Atlantic seafloor, to the west of Britain and Ireland. The frequency range of the data comprises the entire ranges of the Blue and Fin Whale vocalisations and the low-frequency parts of the Humpbacks and the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whales. Both the hydrophone and seismic data contain clear recordings of the whale songs. The 3-component seismic data can be used to determine the azimuth towards the sound source and, thus, to locate and track the animals. The SEA-SEIS network stretches across more than half the distance from Ireland to Greenland and can provide unique evidence on the abundance and migration patterns of the whales.
Project summary : 
Broadband seismic data recorded by ocean-bottom seismometers can be used to locate and track baleen whales. The supervisor of this project has led the recently completed SEA-SEIS deployment in the North Atlantic ( and collected unique data that will be used in this project. The first goal will be to develop and apply methods for the detection of whale vocalisations in the continuous seismic and hydrophone data and for the location and tracking of the animals. A very large dataset can be collected using the 19 months of continuous data. Analysis of the dataset, in collaboration with biology colleagues, will then provide important new evidence on the whales’ behaviour, abundance, and migration patterns. The project will also present excellent opportunities for outreach and public engagement (see, for example,
What will the student do?: 
The student will start with analysis of seismic and hydrophone data. They will apply and adapt seismic event-detection algorithms to the problem of the whale-vocalisation detection. Methods for whale location will be developed and applied next, on the basis of existing seismic event location methods. Once the methods are tuned, they will be applied to the entire SEA-SEIS dataset, and the dataset of whale vocalisation will be created. The analysis of this dataset will be conducted together with Cambridge and international seismology and biology colleagues.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Lebedev, S., R. Bonadio, M. Tsekhmistrenko, J.I. de Laat, C.J. Bean, 2021. Seafloor seismometers look for clues to North Atlantic volcanism, EOS, 102,
Dréo, R., Bouffaut, L., Leroy, E., Barruol, G. & Samaran, F., 2019. Baleen whale distribution and seasonal occurrence revealed by an ocean bottom seismometer network in the Western Indian Ocean. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, 161, pp.132-144.
Kuna, V.M. & Nábělek, J.L., 2021. Seismic crustal imaging using fin whale songs. Science, 371(6530), pp.731-735.
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Earth Sciences page.
Sergei Lebedev
Prof Nicholas Rawlinson
Department of Earth Sciences Graduate Administrator