The Beacon

Fleet of Gliding Robots Collect Ocean Data

A slocum glider, with its wings, is prepped before deployment. (Photo: Christena MacDonald, OTN/MEOPAR)

It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s an ocean-going robot! Scientists from the United States and Canada are teaming up to launch up to 14 ocean-monitoring robotic gliders. These gliders are collecting data on ocean conditions and marine life along the eastern seaboard, traveling from the coast to the edge of the continental shelf.

Aptly-named “Gliderpalooza,” the coordinated launch is already underway, with gliders launching from multiple locations between Georgia and Nova Scotia throughout September and October. (The next launch is scheduled for today!) Led by Rutgers University, the international study is the largest of its kind to date and will test how well large-scale coordinated uses of gliders work.

These ocean-going robots—called slocum gliders—are impressively high-tech. They “glide” through the water by changing their relative density, allowing them to zig-zag up and down in a sawtooth pattern and take samples at depths up to 500 meters below the surface.

Onboard the gliders are sensors that measure temperature, oxygen, salinity, and chlorophyll concentrations. The shore-bound scientists don’t have to wait long for their data; the gliders use satellites to transmit data in almost real-time. Researchers are especially interested in what the gliders reveal about water temperatures along the continental shelf, because ocean temperatures play a large role in the formation of hurricanes.

Eight of the 14 gliders will also carry tracking devices that can detect special acoustic tags on marine animals that scientists use to track their movements. By timing the glider launches with migration season, scientists hope to better understand when and how some marine animals migrate, including right whales and Atlantic sturgeon.

Gliderpalooza continues for the next several weeks, so check out the Maracoos Blog for daily updates and follow the gliders online

 

The slocum glider’s inventor, Douglas C. Webb, explains how these little robots will change ocean exploration. (Video: RutgersCOOL)

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