Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 31 Issue 01

View Issue TOC
Volume 31, No. 1
Pages 98 - 103


Power from Benthic Microbial Fuel Cells Drives Autonomous Sensors and Acoustic Modems

Clare E. Reimers Michael Wolf
Article Abstract

Autonomous platforms that support low-power sensors represent one approach to expanding ocean observing. This paper describes a unique autonomous platform designed to deliver long-term sensor measurements from the benthic boundary layer at low cost. The platform, called a Benthic Observer (BeOb), is powered by energy harvested with a benthic microbial fuel cell (BMFC), and it uses an acoustic modem to both store and transmit data organized in daily reports of hourly measurements. A BeOb equipped with sensors to measure dissolved oxygen, temperature, and conductivity ~1 m above the seabed has been active for over 14 months on the Oregon slope at a location within the core of the oxygen minimum zone. During this observation period, the system’s battery reserves have been kept fully charged by the BMFC. A 90-day time series of sensor data are compared to simultaneous high-frequency measurements at a neighboring Ocean Observatories Initiative cabled Benthic Experiment Package to examine the expected quality and confidence levels for seasonal or annual means of continued measurements. An ocean observing system incorporating arrays of BMFC-powered platforms transmitting to central gateway modems is proposed for future ocean-property monitoring programs. Such arrays may be especially helpful for tracking expansions of ocean oxygen minimum zones.


Reimers, C.E., and M. Wolf. 2018. Power from benthic microbial fuel cells drives autonomous sensors and acoustic modems. Oceanography 31(1):98–103, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2018.115.


Box, G.E.P., G.M. Jenkins, G.C. Reinsel, and G.M. Ljung. 2015. Time Series Analysis: Forecasting and Control, 5th ed., Wiley, 712 pp.

Falkowski, P., T. Algeo, L. Codispoti, C. Deutsch, S. Emerson, B. Hales, R. Huey, W. Jenkins, L. Kump, L. Levin, and others. 2011. Ocean deoxygenation: Past, present, and future. Eos 92:409–420, https://doi.org/10.1029/2011EO460001.

Helm, K., N. Bindoff, and J. Church. 2011. Observed decreases in oxygen content of the global ocean. Geophysical Research Letters 38, L23602, https://doi.org/10.1029/2011GL049513.

Henson, S.A., C. Beaulieu, and R. Lampitt. 2016. Observing climate change trends in ocean biogeochemistry: When and where. Global Change Biology 22:1,561–1,571, https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.13152.

Keeling, R.F., A. Körtzinger, and N. Gruber. 2010. Ocean deoxygenation in a warming world. Annual Review of Marine Science 2:199–229, https://doi.org/​10.1146/annurev.marine.010908.​163855.

Logan, B., B. Hamelers, R. Rozendal, U. Schröder, J. Keller, S. Freguia, P. Aelterman, W. Verstraete, and K. Rabaey. 2006. Microbial fuel cells: Methodology and technology. Environmental Science & Technology 40:5,181–5,192, https://doi.org/​10.1021/es0605016.

Pierce, S., J. Barth, R. Shearman, and A. Erofeev. 2012. Declining oxygen in the Northeast Pacific. Journal of Physical Oceanography 42:495–501, https://doi.org/10.1175/JPO-D-11-0170.1.

Reimers, C.E. 2015. Applications of bioelectrochemical energy harvesting in the marine environment. Pp. 345–366 in Biofilms in Bioelectrochemical Systems: From Laboratory Practice to Data Interpretation. H. Beyenal and J.T. Babauta, eds, Elsevier, https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119097426.ch10.

Reimers, C.E., C. Li, M.F. Graw, P.S. Schrader, and M. Wolf. 2017a. The identification of cable bacteria attached to the anode of a benthic microbial fuel cell: Evidence of long distance extracellular electron transport to electrodes. Frontiers in Microbiology 8:2055, https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2017.02055.

Reimers, C.E., P.S. Schrader, and M. Wolf. 2017b. Autonomous sensors powered by a benthic microbial fuel cell provide long-term monitoring of the Northeast Pacific oxygen minimum zone. Proceedings of Oceans’17, June 19–22, 2017, MTS/IEEE Aberdeen, UK, https://doi.org/10.1109/OCEANSE.2017.8084602.

Riser, S.C., L. Ren, and A. Wong. 2008. Salinity in Argo: A modern view of a changing ocean. Oceanography 21(1):56–67, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2008.67.

Schrader, P.S., C.E. Reimers, P. Girguis, J. Delaney, C. Doolan, M. Wolf, and D. Green. 2016. Independent benthic microbial fuel cells powering sensors and acoustic communications with the MARS underwater observatory. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology 33:607–617, https://doi.org/10.1175/JTECH-D-15-0102.1.

Takeshita, Y., T.R. Martz, K.S. Johnson, J.N. Plant, D. Gilbert, S.C. Riser, C. Neill, and B. Tilbrook. 2013. A climatology-based quality control procedure for profiling float oxygen data. Journal of Geophysical Research 118:5,640–5,650, https://doi.org/10.1002/jgrc.20399.

Tender, L.M., C.E. Reimers, H.A. Stecher III, D.E. Holmes, D.R. Bond, D.R. Lovley, D.A. Lowry, K. Pilobello, and S. Fertig. 2002. Harnessing microbially generated power on the seafloor. Nature Biotechnology 20:821–825, https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt716.

Weatherhead, E.C., G.C. Reinsel, G.C. Tiao, X-L. Meng, D. Choi, W-K. Cheang, T. Keller, J. DeLuisi, D.J. Wuebbles, J.B. Kerr, and others. 1998. Factors affecting the detection of trends: Statistical considerations and applications to environmental data. Journal of Geophysical Research 103:17,149–17,161, https://doi.org/10.1029/98JD00995.

Yue, S., P. Pilon, and G. Cavadias. 2002. Power of Mann-Kendall and Spearman’s rho tests for detecting monotonic trends in hydrological series. Journal of Hydrology 259:254–271, https://doi.org/​10.1016/S0022-1694(01)00594-7.

Copyright & Usage

This is an open access article made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format as long as users cite the materials appropriately, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate the changes that were made to the original content. Images, animations, videos, or other third-party material used in articles are included in the Creative Commons license unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If the material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission directly from the license holder to reproduce the material.