James Kinsey


DOEI Postdoctoral Scholar
August 2007 - February 2009


James Kinsey joined DOEI in August 2007, having received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from The Johns Hopkins University in 2006.  James's doctoral research focused on the development of new navigation techniques for oceanographic submersibles with the goal of improving the automated control of these vehicles and the utility of data obtained by these vehicles for oceanographic science.  While in graduate school, James, in collaboration with his adviser Louis Whitcomb, developed the navigation system used on the Alvin submersible and the Jason II remotely operated vehicle. 

James's DOEI research, in collaboration with Dana Yoerger and Maurice Tivey, focuses on measuring gravity anomalies resulting from density variations with autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs).  Density variations – such as those created by fluid-impacted crust, mineral sulfide precipitation, or magmatic diking – create localized gravity anomalies that are often on the order of a few millionths of the Earth’s gravity field.  Measuring these gravity anomalies and combining them with other measurements, such as bathymetric sonar and magnetics, provides increased interpretive capabilities of the shallow ocean crust.  The application of gravity measurements at mid-ocean ridges (MORs) improves our understanding of the magmatic, geophysical, geochemical and biological processes occurring at MORs.  The scientific benefit of AUV gravity extends beyond MORs to include other regions with complex shallow crustal structure.

Obtaining gravity measurements with AUVs requires an AUV possessing stable vehicle dynamics, continued development of high-accuracy navigation techniques, and building a gravimeter capable of measuring small gravity anomalies that is suited to the unique space and power requirements of AUVs.  WHOI's new Sentry AUV is highly stable in pitch and roll and is capable of controlling depth to with a few centimeters, making it an ideal platform for obtaining AUV gravity measurements.  James is applying techniques developed in his thesis to further improve Sentry's navigation, thus enabling scientists to minimize errors in gravity measurements resulting from vehicle motion.  Perhaps the greatest challenge is developing precision gravimeters that are both compact and low-power, thus allowing them to be deployed on AUVs.  A recently awarded WHOI technology innovation award is enabling James to investigate potential sensors and conduct laboratory tests. 

James's broader research focuses on the application of engineering – particularly robotics and system theory –to oceanography.  Specifically, he is interested in researching sensing and estimation techniques that enable oceanographic submersibles to obtain previously unavailable measurements or increase the efficiency with which data is collected and combine these measurements with scientific models to improve our knowledge of oceanographic processes.  The interdisciplinary nature of this DOEI funded work is allowing James to apply his background in engineering to an important sensing problem while expanding his knowledge of the scientific processes that are essential to better understanding the oceans and the planet.