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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
Over the last week, Saildrone Inc. and NOAA have launched the first batch of saildrones in Alaska and the Washington coast to enhance our understanding of fisheries, ocean acidification and climate science.
Four of these saildrones launched from Dutch Harbor, Alaska this past weekend and will make their way northward, surveying more than 20,000 miles through Bering Strait and into the Arctic Ocean to measure atmospheric and surface ocean conditions, carbon dioxide in the ocean, and the abundance of Arctic cod. Arctic cod is a key component of the Arctic marine ecosystem as a food source for seabirds, ringed seals, narwhals, belugas and other fish. These two missions will gather measurements to identify ongoing changes to the Arctic ecosystem and how changes may affect the food-chain as well as large-scale climate and weather systems.
Last year was the first time the drones journeyed through the Bering Strait into the Arctic with a newly adapted system to measure carbon dioxide concentrations. Jessica Cross, NOAA Oceanographer at PMEL, continues to use saildrones to study how the Arctic Ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide to help improve weather and climate forecasting and our understanding of ocean acidification in these critical ecosystem areas.
Alex De Robertis, NOAA Fisheries Biologist with Alaska Fisheries Science Center, is mapping fish with sound to determine the amount and distribution of Arctic cod. Two drones will survey the same remote locations as previous ship-based surveys in hopes of demystifying the story of Arctic cod as temperatures and ice cover change in the Arctic. “We are trying to unravel the puzzle of what happens to the young Arctic cod that are so abundant in the summer on the Chukchi shelf,” says De Robertis. “There are many young-of the year Arctic cod in this area, but comparatively few adults. They either move to other areas or don’t survive the winter. What is their fate?”
These two missions will continue to further demonstrate the operation of these platforms at high-latitudes through the first fully autonomous acoustic fish survey and field tests of an updated carbon dioxide system that was re-designed to address challenges observed during the 2017 mission.
NOAA and Saildrone, Inc. are embarking on the fifth year of collaboration and novel data collection using saildrones to better understand how changes in the ocean are affecting weather, climate, fisheries and marine mammals.
Read more about all the NOAA Saildrone missions this summer here: http://www.noaa.gov/stories/flotilla-of-saildrones-deploy-to-artic-and-pacific-for-earth-science-missions
Follow along with the Arctic missions on this blog: https://www.pmel.noaa.gov/itae/follow-saildrone-2018
Read more about the West Coast Fisheries survey here: https://swfsc.noaa.gov/news.aspx?ParentMenuId=39&id=23090
Learn more about what we did in previous Alaska surveys:
PMEL Follow the Saildrone 2017
NOAA Fisheries video on 2017 mission
2017 Fur Seal Blog by Carey Kuhn
NOAA Saildrone Research 2016 – Live YouTube Broadcast Recording
2016 Press release and Press Conference
Tracking Technology: the Science of Finding Whales: Video interview with Jessica Crance
2016 Fur Seal Blog by Carey Kuhn
Congratulations to all involved with the 2016 Saildrone missions on receiving the Department of Commence Bronze Award and to Susie Snyder for receiving the NOAA Distinguished Career Award.
NOAA’s PMEL and Alaska Fisheries Science Center were awarded the Bronze Medal for “strengthening NMSF-OAR collaborations through the pioneering use of a Saildrone for next-generation ecosystem surveys in the Bering Sea”.
In 2016, the team successfully conducted the first ecosystem study using two Saildrones. The mission combined both physical and biological oceanography to seek out new ways to supplement traditional vessel-based research. The Saildrones each traveled almost 3,000 nautical miles in the 101 day mission testing innovative technologies, including a specially developed echo sounder and a modified whale acoustic hydrophone. Collectively, the oceanographic, meteorological, and fisheries measurements provided unique and groundbreaking insights to understanding the economically and culturally important ecosystem in the Bering Sea.
This was a collaborative mission between the NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, UW Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, Saildrone Inc., Simrad AS/Kongsberg Maritime, Greeneridge Sciences Inc, and Wildlife Computers. Read more about the 2016 mission here.
The DOC Bronze Award is the highest honor award granted by the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, which recognizes superior performance characterized by outstanding or significant contributions, which have increased the efficiency and effectiveness of NOAA.
Susie Snyder was also awarded The Distinguished Career Award for her “continued efforts in improving budgetary policies and procedures relating to memorandum of agreements and reimbursable funds throughout 30 years of service to NOAA”. This award honors contributions on a sustained basis — a body of work — rather than a single, defined accomplishment. This award also recognizes significant accomplishments across all NOAA program areas and functions that have resulted in long- term benefits to the bureau’s mission and strategic goals.
More than 50 PMEL scientists, including scientists from NOAA, University of Washington's Joint Institute for the Study of the Ocean and Atmosphere (JISAO), Oregon State University's Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies (CIMRS) and the National Research Council, will present a talk or share a poster on their research at the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Portland, Oregon February 12-16, 2018. PMEL research groups that will be present at the conference are: Acoustics, Arctic, Earth-Ocean Interactions, EcoFOCI, Engineering, Global Tropical Moored Buoy Array, Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration, Large Scale Ocean Physics, Ocean Carbon, Ocean Climate Stations, Pacific Western Boundary Currents, Science Data Integration Group, Thermal Modeling and Analysis Project
28 talks will present research on ocean carbon, ocean acidification, ocean observing systems, Arctic research including the Distributed Biological Observatory and Arctic Marine Pulses (AMP), ENSO, MJO, hydrothermal vents, Saildrone research, air-sea interactions, SOCCOM, and ocean mixing. 26 posters will be up during the poster sessions and highlight research in the Arctic, hydrothermal vents, acoustics, methane bubbles and hydrates, Saildrone, Oculus Coastal Glider, ocean carbon, deep ocean temperatures, glider research in the Solomon Sea, and ocean acidification and hyopxia.
PMEL staff will also be chairing sessions and workshops on:
- El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diversity, Predictability, and Impacts
- Western Pacific and Indonesian Sea Circulation and Its Environmental and Climatic Impacts
- New Platform and Sensor Technologies: Advancing Research, Readiness, and Transitioning for Sustained Ocean Observing of Essential Ocean Variables
- Methane from the Subsurface Through the Bio-, Hydro-, and Atmosphere: Advances in Natural Hydrate Systems and Methane Seeps in Marine Ecosystems
- Cascadia Margin methane seep and hydrates to share results and coordinate future work
The 2018 Ocean Sciences 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). The meeting is an important venue for scientific exchange across broad marine science disciplines. Sessions will include all aspects of oceanography, especially multidisciplinary topics, as well as presentations that reflect new and emerging research on the global ocean and society, including science education, outreach, and public policy
After 60 days in the Bering Sea, the Oculus Coastal Glider was successfully recovered by crew of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson on September 26, 2017. The glider successfully navigated 242.8 nautical miles, completed 3612 dives, and sampled salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, sunlight, and fluorescence at a frequency of approximately 3 dives per hour. The glider was tested in a region with a long history of shipboard and mooring observations that provide context for the Oculus glider's observations. Oculus glider measurements reveal detailed information in a known, important biogeographical transition that divides the ecosystems of the northern and southern Bering Sea shelf near St. Matthew Island. Measurements show unexpected ocean mixing in the water column near the island that may be due to internal waves. Data, sensor, and platform analysis is ongoing. Incorporating this higher resolution sampling into the Bering Sea observing network will improve our understanding of how these features affect the ecosystem.
The Oculus is a coastal glider engineered to work in the highly stratified, shallow depths of the Arctic. By using a rapid buoyancy system, the glider can change buoyancy states 20 times faster and achieve speeds three times faster than legacy gliders - allowing for a more efficient and adaptive Arctic survey, but transferable to a variety of markets.
This was the second field test for the Oculus coastal gliders. The first field test occurred early May 2017, also in the Bering Sea, with 387 dives completed near the M2 mooring site. For the second field test, the glider was deployed from the US Coast Gaurd Cutter Healy during the 2017 Arctic Shield mission.
The Oculus was developed at PMEL in partnership with the University of Washington's Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean and the University of Washington Seaglider Fabrication Lab.
On September 1, two saildrones launched from the Saildrone Inc. dock in Alameda, CA to begin their six-month, 8,000-nautical-mile, round-trip mission to the equator to improve the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS). These saildrones are a component of a broader effort to rethink the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS) that supports sub-seasonal to seasonal forecasting for the US. TPOS provides real-time data used by the US and partner nations to forecast weather and climate, including El Nino. The mission will be testing if this new, enhanced tool can collect a variety of measurements at a quality that matches research ships and proven mooring technology, Tropical Atmosphere Ocean (TAO) array. If this is the case, they may become a powerful tool to provide key observations for weather forecasts.
The saildrones are headed to the California Current Ecosystem (CCE) for a short test before taking part in a larger field study with NASA at the NASA SPURS study site in the eastern Tropical Pacific. The saildrones will perform an intercomparison with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI) buoy and collect observational date in the study site. The saildrones will also do a calibration exercise with a research ship to ensure the accuracy and quality of the measurements that are being collected. This is particularly important to scientists when testing new sensors and technologies. Then the saildrones will travel south to the equator to do intercomparisons with the TAO moorings before heading back to Alameda, CA.
If the mission is successful, the improved data collection can help improve forecasts for El Nino’s and other weather phenomena that develop in the tropical Pacific and strongly impact North American weather patterns.
Read more about the Saildrone missions in the Arctic and the Tropical Pacific here.
Over the next four months, NOAA scientists will launch unmanned ocean vehicles, called Saildrones, from the Arctic to the tropical Pacific Ocean to help better understand how changes in the ocean are affecting weather, climate, fisheries and marine mammals. The wind and solar-powered research vehicles that resemble a sailboat will travel thousands of miles across the ocean, reaching some areas never before surveyed with such specialized technology.
Earlier this week, PMEL scientists and Saildrone, Inc. sent off three saildrones from Dutch Harbor, Alaska. For the first time, two saildrones will sail north through the Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean to study how the Arctic Ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide. A third unmanned vehicle will survey more than 3,100 nautical miles in the Bering Sea for walleye pollock, Northern fur seals that prey on them and the elusive North Pacific right whale. This work will build on research conducted during 2016, including a study of fur seal feeding rates. NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center scientists will also attach video cameras to fur seals to record feeding and verify the species and sizes of fish that fur seals are eating.
In September, scientists will launch two more unmanned systems from Alameda, Calif., on a six-month, 8,000-nautical-mile, round-trip mission to the equator to improve the Tropical Pacific Observing System (TPOS). TPOS provides real-time data used by the U.S. and partner nations to forecast weather and climate, including El Nino. The unmanned sailing vehicles will take part in a larger field study with NASA, and visit mooring sites along the array of observing buoys.
Read the release on NOAA Research here and follow along with the Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration's Blog for the Bering and Chukchi Seas missions.
May 16-June 2: The second summer field season for the Arctic Heat Open Science Experiment began with its first flight out of Kotzebue, Alaska. The research team, including Kevin Wood, are flying aboard a specially-outfitted NOAA Twin Otter aircraft to launch traditional atmospheric and oceanographic probes as well as the experimental Air-Launched Autonomous Micro-Observer (ALAMO) floats into the Chukchi Sea. After last year's field missions, two ALAMO floats made it through the winter and are currently profiling every 5 days. Check out the raw data for float 9085 and float 9076.
Arctic Heat is an open science experiment, publishing data generated by the project to further NOAA Science Missions with real-time data to facilitate timely observations for use in weather and sea-ice forecasts, to make data readily accessible for model and reanalysis assimilation, and to support ongoing research activities across disciplines.
Arctic Heat is a joint effort of NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) Arctic Research, the Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration (ITAE) program, the ALAMO development group at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) at the University of Washington.