Its scientists are part of a group of researchers who have developed a technique that uses imaging equipment sensitive to polarising light.

The polarisation sensors they have built use patterns of light under water to determine the sun’s position in the sky.

Dr Samuel Powell said that the discovery was inspired by mantis shrimp, squid, cuttlefish and octopus, which communicate using the polarised light that humans can see only with the help of special lenses.

Modern navigation techniques such as satellite-based GPS don't work under water beyond a depth of about 20cm, and maximum visibility beneath the surface is around 100m.

“Submarines use GPS systems at the surface, and when they descend they rely on dead reckoning to calculate their position,” said Dr Powell. “The longer without GPS, the more erroneous your calculation can be.

“Using polarisation sensors, our method would allow for real-time geo-localisation under water with more accurate long-distance results, without the need to resurface periodically.” The method could work to a depth of 200m.

The research was carried out in collaboration with colleagues at Washington University and the University of Illinois, and the findings are published in Science Advances.

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