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Underwater acoustics

Enabling protection and sustainable exploitation of the marine environment

We provide world-leading metrology for ocean acoustics to support offshore energy, defence applications and the marine technology industry

Underwater acoustics is a key underpinning technology for offshore oil and gas activities. It is increasingly used in oceanographic and environmental studies, and also plays a crucial role in defence. The applications of underwater sound span positioning, communications, navigation, echo-sounding, geophysical surveying, water quality measurement, sonar, weapons systems and tomographic measurements of ocean currents and temperature.

NPL's capability enables the protection and sustainable exploitation of the marine environment through provision and dissemination of traceable acoustic standards. This enhances the competitiveness of the marine technology industry and underpins strategic offshore energy applications.The accurate measurement of anthroprogenic, or man-made pollution, noise is key to the assessment of its effect on marine life.

The metrology infrastructure ensures a robust legislative framework to protect the ocean environment without introducing unnecessary barriers to exploitation of the seas. It provides the standards that underpin the UK's defence and security capability, and support UK marine technology companies.

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Our research

Our work establishes confidence in new techniques to measure sound underwater and unlocks new possibilities for industry offshore, as well as helping to track our impact on the environment.

Calibration standards for acoustic technology

We provide traceable standards to give confidence in measurement and device performance

Measurement at simulated ocean conditions

We have the capability to characterise performance of transducers and materials as a function of depth and temperature

Sonar quantitative imaging

We develop methods for active sonar calibration to facilitate quantitative sonar imaging

Standards for ocean noise

We develop new methods for in-situ characterisation of sources and for monitoring ocean sound

UXO Clearance Technologies:
Controlled Underwater Acoustic Testing Opportunity

Defra, together with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), is seeking candidate technologies for clearance of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) to participate in a funded acoustic testing programme in a controlled facility to determine their acoustic performance.  This is a key aspect of Defra’s efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of UXO clearance in the marine environment.  

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Our services

Our world-class team works closely with industry and regulators to determine the best methods for measuring sound underwater. From developing new underwater sensors, to improving standards, we offer a broad range of services to help organisations increase their understanding of the impact of underwater noise. 


Case study

Supporting reliable underwater sensors for the oil and gas industry


Case study

Monitoring the impact of offshore wind farms on marine wildlife


Our resources

We offer a number of good practice guides and training courses. Search our comprehensive list of resources. 


Our team

Our people are leaders in their fields. Take a look at our Underwater Acoustics team.
View our team