Jasco has a Long History in Acoustics
By Tom Peters, Halifax
A small Canadian company is using its “scientific excellence” in acoustics to advance human and industrial activities mainly in a marine environment. JASCO Applied Sciences has more than 30 years of experience in various aspects of marine acoustics. It has delivered its expertise internationally and has become one of the global leaders in marine acoustic data collection and analysis.
The company was initially formed as JASCO Research in 1981 in Victoria, B.C. by Joseph A. Scrimger (JASCO), a scientist with Defense Research Establishment Pacific (DREP) and an expert in marine acoustic modeling, said JASCO’s product engineering manager John Moloney.
During the early days of the company, Scrimger added Dave Hannay and Roberto Racca to his staff to conduct some acoustic modeling and oceanographic projects outside of DREP. The pair collaborated with Scott Carr on an environmental impact assessment at the acoustic range in Nanoose, BC, with their focus on acoustic modeling. Carr, Hannay and Racca eventually took over JASCO when Scrimger died.
In 2006, Carr, while attending a conference in Nova Scotia, decided to establish a JASCO office on the East Coast.
“This operation has grown to be the largest office in the company,” Moloney said in a conversation at the company’s facilities in the Burnside Industrial Park, across the harbor from Halifax. “We now have the bulk of the employees, approximately 40 of about 76 in the company.”
In addition to Victoria, there are satellite offices in such locations as San Diego, Washington, Anchorage, England, Australia and Mexico.
Moloney explains that JASCO’s work is focused in three areas.
“First, modeling is a core part of the business. We basically model the impact of human activities on the marine environment. We are concerned about pollution but it is a unique kind of pollution, anthropogenic or man made noise from industrial activities and there effects on marine environments.” Many of JASCO’s customers are just looking for the modeling aspect to determine that if they carry out certain processes what impact might these activities have on the environment.
Moloney explained that some JASCO clients want to take the project a step further. “They want us to monitor what they are doing. Some measurement programs are just short term monitoring,” he said, while others can be very long term “in the order of decades.” Moloney said JASCO has been involved for several years in a project in the Chukchi Sea where the company has been monitoring marine life.
He describes the project as a “passive acoustic program in support of the oil and gas industry” which is undertaking initiatives in the Bering, Beaufort and Chukchi regions, mostly on the U.S. side.
“Those types of programs require measurement of the radiated noise from drilling platforms, support vessels and exploration. If some are shooting seismic, we measure the sounds they emit and the effects they have on the environment,” Moloney said.
The company’s monitoring programs result in major data collection.
“This year we will likely collect about 30 terabytes of data and a key thing we do is we actually analyze the data. We collect data from around the world, it comes back here where it is uploaded and processed,” with a lot of manual analysis augmented by automated analysis.
From data collected, JASCO can determine various aspects of marine life such as population density estimates for animals, types of animals in a particular region, determine migration routes and migration patterns.
“We are trying to get as much information about marine life out of those data sets and that is unique,” said Moloney.
“So modeling, monitoring programs and the data analysis, those are the three things we do,” he said “So in the end, where we are getting more involved these days is in the behavioral impact. We do a deep analysis of the data with biologists and acousticians to determine animal behavior and in last several years the demand for us to do that has grown significantly.”
Moloney said JASCO has developed a strategic arrangement with Cornell University in Ithaca, New York which enhances the company’s ability to provide behavioral science and bioacoustics to its clients.
JASCO’s work over the years has meant the company has looked to various areas for appropriate software to use in its work. “We do have bunch of suites of software, certainly a lot are detectors and classifiers and we have detection tools developed in-house,” Moloney said. “We also make use of modeling tools that were developed in-house but we also use third party tools in the analysis of our data and modeling so it’s a combination of in-house products and third party.”
On the hardware side, Moloney said JASCO was “forced to develop hardware products.
When started to look at things we needed to deal with our customers, we couldn’t find anything commercially. We tried some available technology and we quickly ran into problems with equipment that couldn’t survive in harsh environments. We had a lot of soft noise problems, low reliability and robustness issues,” he stated.
So JASCO developed its required hardware and never intended to sell that equipment commercially. However, as things turned out “we have developed products that people have come in and said that is pretty slick and can we buy it. So we have started to do that. We have taken an in-house research tool and we are now in early stages of bringing it to the market and selling it,” Moloney said.
The main piece of equipment Moloney referred to is called the AMAR G3, an autonomous multi-channel acoustic recorder which can stream real time data.
“It is a very capable device, designed for long duration autonomous missions,” said Moloney. “It uses very little power, it has a very large capacity with a two terabyte recorder, it has a very high bandwidth and probably the most important thing is because we started off in an acoustic domain, we are getting a very low soft noise. We worked very hard on that,” he said.
Moloney calls it “an enabling technology that can be configured in any fashion a customer wants.” It can tethered to a bottom mooring.
The equipment is designed so modules can be added to meet different requirements. There are deep and shallow versions of the housing and can provide real time data streaming when integrated with a real-time telemetry system.
“It is a very flexible and capable platform,” he added.
JASCO has a high flow, low noise mooring in which the equipment can be inserted for measurements in tidal environments. “A big part of our growing business is doing anthropogenic noise in river environments where companies are doing bridging projects and pile driving. We can use the same instruments that were designed originally for deep ocean in shallow and flowing river environments,” he stated.
Although JASCO started with a focus on marine acoustic work, Moloney explained the company does have some capability and capacity to do terrestrial acoustics and blast physics. “We are a very academic and scientific company. Many of our acousticians have done work in sort of terrestrial acoustics” and although the company has some done work in this field.
JASCO is not without its challenges.
“Our biggest challenge is we are a small Canadian company and it is really about judging how much to invest from a capital perspective to service the growing market that we see,” Moloney said. “Sales are not a problem. There seems to be a significant demand on us. We have deep connections in the oil and gas sector servicing our customers with high quality services and products. We have to make sure we sustain that level of good science and technology and make sure we deliver on programs we have. That is the key challenge.”
On the competitive side, the biggest competition comes from “academic institutions, that are subsidized. They don’t bear the costs of their overheads and their rates reflect that so it is a bit of an issue,” he added.
But Moloney said if an industrial company has a schedule and really wants to get through an environmental assessment critical to their situation “we offer a strong compelling case to them because we are a company, we have to deliver on time. We are not driven by an academic schedule. We are extremely proud of our science so we strive for scientific excellence,” Moloney stressed.
Going forward Moloney says the company is looking at more real time systems and instruments. “Collecting data and analyzing after the fact is not the way it is going for us in the future. Our instrument fleet is capable of streaming data with real time processing and real time classification. Companies want information now. We have that in-house capability.
“The other place we are going is up river,” he said with a smile. “We are looking more at jetties, retaining walls and bridging projects. Basically harbors, estuaries and rivers and effects on migratory fish, smaller and less sexy species.”
There is also an energy to grow the company globally. China, Latin America and the developing countries in Southeast Asia are areas of interest for JASCO.
Ocean energy sources such as offshore wind power also hold a future for JASCO.
Moloney said the company focus is quite straight forward.
“We feel our job is to enable human and industrial activities in the environment but to do so in an eco-friendly way. We are not here to impede anybody, we are here to enable someone,” he said.
(As published in the January/February 2014 edition of Marine Technology Reporter - www.seadiscovery.com)