Unmanned Submersibles Making Ocean Research Easier

Written by on October 17, 2013 in Technology

Manned deep-sea submersibles can provide us with valuable information about areas of the ocean that are incredibly difficult to study, but they are also incredibly expensive to operate. A more versatile and much less expensive way to study what’s happening below the surface is to use unmanned drones, typically called gliders.

Fleets of gliders can help researchers track marine life, pipelines, and oil spills, and can be used to defend harbors, ships and shipping lanes. With all of these benefits, why aren’t we using more of them?

Although they are becoming more common, we aren’t using gliders all the time, all over the place because we haven’t quite perfected the technology yet — getting the drones to communicate effectively with each other is the biggest challenge. Check out this great segment from BBC News to learn about the current state of unmanned underwater drones:

But just because the technology hasn’t been perfect yet doesn’t mean we aren’t learning a great deal from them already.

Seaglider owned and maintained by University of Washington.

Seaglider owned and maintained by University of Washington. Photo: NOAA.

All along the east coast of North America, from Nova Scotia to Georgia, gliders have been exploring the depths of the ocean, collecting all kinds of data from temperature and salinity to phytoplankton and great white shark populations. This project, dubbed Gliderpalooza, involves 11 institutions, a dozen gliders and lots of funding.

Gliderpalooza began in mid-September and continued into October as the gliders run from the coast to the edge of the continental shelf. They were deployed during the busiest two months of hurricane season and although the gliders aren’t specifically designed to track storms, they would be able to track its progress.

Depending on weather conditions, researchers will be out deploying five more gliders: one out of Wachapreague, Virginia, three out of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and one out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. For frequent updates on the status of the project, check out the blog!

Slocum glider at a station operated by Rutgers.

Slocum glider at a station operated by Rutgers. Photo credit: NOAA.

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Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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