What's New Archive
After 8 months of sitting on the seafloor, PMEL’s latest engineering development, the Flotation Controllable Ocean Mooring (FCOM) system successfully resurfaced in July. Over the last two years, PMEL has been developing a profiling mooring for use in Arctic regions that submerges when ice arrives in the fall and refloats in the spring after ice retreat. The FCOM system has a surface float that is anchored to the ocean floor, and includes a Prawler that moves up and down the mooring line collecting profiles of temperature, salinity, chlorophyll, and dissolved oxygen. This innovation will provide real-time information of the full water column during the entire open water (sea ice free) season.
The Chukchi Sea is an ice-driven system. Collecting data during the spring and fall is crucial for monitoring ecosystem production and generating ice forecasts. Data collection during spring and fall is difficult as there are few vessels in the region during those times, and moorings must be placed near the seafloor to avoid ice keels which prevents real time data return on the status of the full water column. Prior to FCOMs, surface floats could only sample for a short period because deployment and recovery were dependent upon the tight scheduling of research vessels. This mooring addresses these long-standing science gaps.
The mooring was originally deployed from the R/V Ocean Starr in spring of 2019 in the Chukchi Sea with pre-programmed dates to sink and resurface. It sank in October 2019, resurfaced in July 2020 and will be recovered in September. The next version of FCOM will be outfitted with a hydrophone and ice-detection algorithms so that it can resurface after ice retreats without having a pre-programmed date. Ultimately, the FCOM with a Prawler is intended to be integrated into NOAA’s Arctic observing system.
Two saildrones in the Pacific Ocean just west of the Golden Gate Bridge at the start of their journey. Photo Credit: Saildrone, Inc.
Three saildrones left Alameda, California in May and have arrived at Unimak Pass in Alaska’s remote Aleutian Islands. The ocean drones have sailed nearly 2,700 miles at a walking pace, about 2.5 miles per hour (2 knots), which is just about the distance from Seattle to Miami. Once they navigate through the pass, the saildrones will enter the Bering Sea. This is where they will conduct a two month-long acoustic survey of walleye pollock to collect some critically needed data to support management of the nation’s largest commercial fishery for Alaska pollock. They are expected to reach their first survey station in about a week and will cover roughly the same area normally covered by standard research vessels.
The data the drones collect will help to fill in the gap for fisheries stock assessment scientists who monitor the changes in pollock populations to advise fisheries management. The sonar measurements made by the ocean drones will provide valuable insights on pollock abundance and distribution in 2020.
The mission is led by NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center with scientists at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory processing the oceanographic and meteorological data in real time. Data will be made available to weather forecasts center worldwide via the World Meteorological Organization's Global Telecommunication System (GTS) so that these observations can be incorporated into weather predictions. PMEL, AFSC and Saildrone have collaborated on several missions in the Arctic since 2015 to develop the vehicle’s capabilities and refine the sensors.
PMEL, AFSC and Saildrone have collaborated on several missions in the Arctic since 2015 to develop the vehicle’s capabilities and refine the sensors.
PMEL Acoustics Program and Engineering Development Division participated as part of a memorandum of understanding between NOAA and Caladan providing subject matter expertise on pressure sensors and acoustics during the June mission in the Mariana Trench to map the Challenger Deep with pressure sensors and collect oceanographic data. A full-ocean depth hydrophone was deployed during the Ring of Fire Expedition at Challenger Deep. The hydrophone was deployed on a lander with several deep-ocean pressure sensors over two cruises in the Challenger Deep basin. In addition, water samples for environmental DNA analysis have also been collected.
The first dive was completed on June 8 by Kathy Sullivan and Victor Vescovo aboard the Limiting Factor, a two-person submersible built by Triton Submarines and Caladan Oceanic. The recordings from the hydrophone are also part of acoustics research conducted by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to determine how sound waves propagate in the deepest parts of the ocean.
PMEL successfully first deployed the hydrophone in 2015 to establish a baseline for noise in the ocean’s deepest location. The recordings captured a baleen whale’s call, a magnitude 5.0 earthquake, an overhead typhoon and ship traffic noise.
The US Arctic and Bering Sea are big, remote, and harsh environments. PMEL's Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration program and Engineering Development Division have been developing autonomous technologies and tools to collect critical data to better understand changes in the oceans and its impact on food security, sea ice forecasts, weather and climate.
Drones and gliders are not designed for ice edge and can offer a new perspective on Arctic science, exploring new areas of the Arctic Ocean. One critical area of study is the melting edge of the seasonal ice pack. The timing and speed of annual ice retreat is changing each year, and could have a big impact on ecosystems and global weather patterns. PMEL is pushing the envelope to further develop gliders and drones to advance the science near the ice edge to explore how it moves and changes.
Check out the video on our YouTube Channel to learn more about NOAA PMEL’s autonomous observing technology in the Arctic: https://youtu.be/A_
41 scientists from PMEL, including scientists from NOAA's cooperative institutes at the University of Washington's Joint Institute for the Study of the Ocean and Atmosphere (JISAO) and Oregon State University's Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies (CIMRS), the National Research Council, graduate and undergraduate students are heading to the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego to share their current research. Talks and posters cover a range of topics include saildrone research, ocean observing systems, marine heatwaves, Arctic, acoustics, Deep Argo, genetics and genomics, El Nino, hydrothermal vents, methane, nutrients, technologies, ocean carbon and data management.
The 2020 Oceans Science Meeting is the flagship conference for the ocean sciences and the larger ocean-connected community. As we approach the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, beginning in 2021, it is increasingly important to gather as a scientific community to raise awareness of the truly global dimension of the ocean, address environmental challenges, and set forth on a path towards a resilient planet. The meeting is co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), and The Oceanography Society (TOS).
PMEL research groups that will be present at the conference are: Acoustics, Arctic including Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration, Climate-Weather Interface, Earth-Ocean Interactions, EcoFOCI, Engineering, Genetics and Genomics, Global Tropical Moored Buoy Array, , Large Scale Ocean Physics, Ocean Carbon, Ocean Climate Stations, Pacific Western Boundary Currents, and Science Data Integration Group.
On November 20, 2019, a team of PMEL scientists, engineers, and technicians successfully deployed two deep water oceanographic moorings off the coast of Hawaii to test PMEL’s newest data acquisition system, known as TELOS (Telemetry, Electronics & Logging of Oceanographic Sensors). The “brain” behind oceanographic data collection, TELOS interfaces with the atmospheric and oceanic sensors aboard the moorings -- collecting, storing, and transmitting measured data in real-time via satellite telemetry.
Station ALOHA, located 90 miles north of Oahu, is a well-established hub of ocean research. The site contains a cabled array seafloor observatory, a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution surface mooring (WHOTS), long-range profilers, autonomous gliders, and other equipment. With the abundance of ocean observations on site, frequent ship visits, and ease of access from a US port to ocean depths greater than 4,500 meters (nearly 3 miles), the site offers an ideal testbed to evaluate the new TELOS technology.
The two deployments near Station ALOHA represent the first-ever open-ocean moorings with TELOS. One mooring contains a standard set of 13 line-mounted temperature/salinity instruments at depths ranging from 1 meter to 500 meters, two current meters, and a full suite of six meteorological instruments similar to the instrumentation on well-established Global Tropical Moored Buoy Array and Ocean Climate Stations moorings. A backup data acquisition system with a duplicate suite of six meteorological instruments is deployed on this mooring for comparison to an established control system. The second mooring also includes the standard set of 6 meteorological instruments and features a PMEL subsurface Prawler device that crawls up and down the mooring line, transmitting upper-ocean temperature/salinity profile data and potentially replacing the need for multiple in-line instruments. Both moorings will be evaluated over the 1-year deployment period to compare the data acquisition systems, using measurements from both moorings as well as the WHOTS mooring for additional comparison. TELOS has already demonstrated the capability to collect, process, and return higher volumes of real-time data than previous data acquisition systems, with the additional capacity for integrating new instrumentation.
So far, the mission has been a success. High-resolution real-time data are transmitted to PMEL via satellite, and scientists are developing visualization tools and analyzing data quality. The full data payload will be downloaded from the moorings in late 2020, testing the ability to survive a yearlong deployment at sea. If successful, TELOS will be scaled up for implementation across the PMEL mooring networks, transforming the future of oceanographic data collection.
NOAA and Oregon State University researchers have developed an effective method to use an underwater robotic glider to measure sound levels over broad areas of the ocean, published today in the journal PLOS ONE.
“Healthy marine ecosystems need to have noise levels within particular ranges,” said Joe Haxel, lead author of the paper and assistant professor/senior research at Oregon State University and part of NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab Acoustics Program. “As an analogy for humans it’s the difference between living in the country or living in the city or somewhere really loud.”
Ocean sound was recently listed as an essential ocean variable by the Global Ocean Observing System, a UNESCO program, due to its importance for marine life and seagoing humans and because it is used to monitor and locate everything from earthquakes to tsunamis to nuclear explosions.
Traditionally, scientists have measured ocean sound by attaching hydrophones, essentially an underwater microphone, to a fixed mooring in the water. The problem with that is scientists only get data from that single location. Ocean sound can also be measured from a research ship, but they are expensive to operate. They also create a lot of noise themselves, which disturbs marine animals and fish that are sensitive to sound.
Attaching a hydrophone to a glider solves those problems because gliders operate autonomously, relatively quietly and can cover hundreds of miles over several weeks.
Gliders equipped with hydrophones can conduct repeated surveys of a region of concern for acoustic habitat degradation and provide real-time measurements of changing noise levels. Gliders have also successfully been used by scientists to measure noise from an underwater volcano and to predict surface wind speeds. An additional benefit of gliders is that they are outfitted with other sensors and instruments that provide important measurements, such as temperature, salinity and depth.
In the research described in the PLOS ONE paper, the research team attached the hydrophone to the glider, which is about 5 feet long and weighs about 120 pounds. The glider traveled for 18 days between Grey’s Harbor, Washington and Brookings, Oregon, a distance of about 285 miles. The glider operated along the North American continental shelf break, which on average is about 30 miles off the coast where the ocean depth begins to drop more steeply. The shelf break is a key migratory path for marine animals.
Once the scientists retrieved the hydrophone data, their main challenge was fine-tuning their algorithms to filter out the noise the glider creates when operating. After that filtering occurred, the researchers were able to cross-reference the data collected during the 18-day glider trip with historical data from hydrophones attached to moorings along that route.
Haxel said it was pretty shocking how closely the data sets aligned. That led the team to conclude that the gliders are an effective and valuable asset for measuring underwater ocean sound.
Read the paper here: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0225325
The story was originally published by Oregon State University on November 20, 2019.
It was an audacious idea: To send an unmanned saildrone on a 13,670-nautical-mile journey around Antarctica alone, at the mercy of the most hostile seas on the planet. In winter.
“The assumption was the Southern Ocean would eat the saildrone … and that would be that,” said NOAA oceanographer Adrienne Sutton. “But we were willing to try, given the large role the ocean plays in the trajectory of climate change. Getting the Southern Ocean's carbon balance right is urgently important."
Despite a run-in with an iceberg that wrecked some of its sensors, Saildrone 1020 completed its mission on August 3 having successfully collected oceanic and atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements with an instrument developed by NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.
The 196-day voyage was the world’s first autonomous circumnavigation of Antarctica — a technological feat that was unfathomable just a decade ago.
An arduous journey around the end of the world
Saildrone 1020 and two counterparts launched from Point Bluff, New Zealand on January 19, 2019, on a mission funded by the Li Ka Shing Foundation. The three saildrones collect and transmit a range of data on weather, seal and krill populations, and levels of carbon dioxide, CO2, in the air and water.
Until recently, scientists assumed that the Southern Ocean steadily absorbed large volumes of CO2 from the atmosphere — a big contributor to the entire ocean’s uptake of up to 40 percent of the greenhouse gases driving global warming.
However, scientists also knew shifts in winds and circulation around Antarctica could alter CO2 uptake from the atmosphere, and recent measurements from instrumented Argo floats showed that under certain conditions the Southern Ocean could emit CO2 instead of absorbing it. But researchers had yet to sample vast areas, especially during stormy autumn and winter seasons.
The severe weather survived by the saildrone demonstrated why.
Pounded by storms right after leaving New Zealand, Saildrone 1020’s partners, Saildrones 1022 and 1023, were soon forced to return to port for repairs, while Saildrone 1020 pushed on through roaring winds and giant waves.
Navigating east of the Drake Passage on April 5, a collision with an iceberg damaged its atmospheric sensors and onboard camera, but left the carbon dioxide sensor intact.
“On four previous voyages in the Southern Ocean, the wings on our saildrones broke after just a few days, so we went back and built something we thought was indestructible,” said Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins. “It was a long shot, but it worked out exactly as we hoped."
Preliminary results suggest that parts of the ocean identified by the floats as potential CO2 sources were indeed emitting the greenhouse gas during winter months. Saildrone 1020 also got close enough to one of the floats to allow scientists to compare their CO2 measurements, a valuable cross-check of different robots and observing techniques.
“It was a high-risk, high reward kind of deployment,” Sutton said. “We weren’t sure it was going to make it.
Meanwhile, after being repaired and relaunched, Saildrones 1022 and 1023 are finding their own their way around Antarctica now.
On May 16, six saildrones loaded with scientific instruments and cameras launched from a dock in Alaska's Dutch Harbor to monitor ongoing changes to the U.S. Arctic ecosystem food-chain, ice movement, and large-scale climate and weather systems.
This is the first year NOAA and NASA scientists will be working together to use the drones to survey as close to the Arctic ice edge as possible. Measurements collected this summer in the Arctic will not only be used to improve NOAA and NASA satellite ocean temperature measurements, they will also be available to global weather agencies for operational use.
While most of the saildrones will be pursuing the ice edge for the duration of the three-month mission, two other simultaneous projects will also tackle some big questions on how this cutting-edge technology can be used to collect critical observations. NOAA PMEL scientists will continue to study how the Chukchi Sea is absorbing carbon dioxide to help improve weather and climate forecasting as well as our understanding of ongoing changes in the Pacific-Arctic ecosystem. The Bering Sea is home to the largest walleye pollock fishery and the declining population of northern fur seal which primarily feed on pollock. During the summer, NOAA Fisheries scientists will use the saildrone combined with traditional at-sea tracking techniques and video cameras to get a seals-eye view during fur seal feeding trips and measure walleye pollock abundance and distribution. Read more about the work done by NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
This is a joint NOAA mission along with the Earth & Space Research, the University of Washington's Joint Institute for the Study of Ocean and Atmosphere and the Applied Physics Lab, and Saildrone, Inc.
Saildrones have traveled about 45,000 nautical miles on Arctic missions since 2015. Follow along with drones as they collect data on fish, fur seals, changes in the Arctic ecosystem and more on the mission blog.
This week, four saildrones departed from Hawaii on the second mission to the equator in an effort to improve the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS). NOAA forecasts a 50-55% chance of a weak El Niño developing during September - November 2018, increasing to 65-70% chance during winter 2018-19. The second saildrone mission will thus capture ocean and atmospheric data during this developing El Niño, including changes in ocean temperature, winds, currents and ocean carbon dioxide concentrations.
During the first mission in late 2017-early 2018, La Niña conditions were present. Strong currents and low winds on the equator made navigation challenging. This year, two of the four saildrones have been outfitted with larger, more efficient sails, making them faster and more capable in low wind-strong current environments.
This mission is part of a series of saildrone missions to the tropical Pacific, focusing on how this new technology could best be used within the TPOS to improve longterm weather forecasts.
PMEL began a partnership with Saildrone, Inc. in 2014 to develop the unmanned surface vehicles for collecting high quality oceanic and atmospheric observations. PMEL's Ocean Climate Stations group has been working together with PMEL engineers and Saildrone, Inc. since 2016 to install sensors on the drones with equivalent or better quality than those currently used on TAO moorings for air-sea flux measurements.
Follow the TPOS Saildrones’ progress at: https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/ocs/ocs-saildrone-mission-blog-tpos-mission-2