Follow the Saildrone 2018
24 August - Drone View: Entering the lagoon of Wainwright, AK
Recently, all four drones headed to Wainwright, AK for some quick maintenance. Saildrone Inc. traveled to the remote village of Wainwright to address an issue negatively impacting the performance of the drones that could not be resolved remotely from Saildrone Inc. HQ in California. While these types of maintenance services are rare, we are thankful for superior teams and dedicated personnel to ensure the safety of the drones and continuation of the science missions. It is hard to imagine that only four years ago, in 2014, Saildrone Inc. and NOAA began a partnership to develop these ocean-going, science driven, drones.
21 August - Drone View: Sunrise, Sunset
Total daylight hours in the US Arctic are dwindling as the end of summer approaches. In summertime, the sun is always above the horizon at the North Pole, circling the Pole once every day. It is highest in the sky at the Summer Solstice, after which it moves closer to the horizon, until it sinks below the horizon, at the Fall Equinox. In Alaska, averaged over an entire year, the state has 10-17 minutes more daylight per day than the rest of the United States. If you include civil twilight, the period before sunrise and after sunset in which it is still light outside, Alaska has 40 minutes more light on average! At this time of year, the drones are in about 17 hours of day length, but deceasing rapidly as the month of August continues. We rely on sun to operate the wind-and solar powered drones, which is a big factor when conducting research in the Arctic. By November, this far north, experiences mostly civil twilight. The ice moves in. And bitter winds arrive. This all limits scientists ability to be in the Arctic, even for a drone. We have about another month of our 2018 Arctic Saildrone Missions, before returning to Dutch Harbor, AK and packing-up.
20 August - Aerial View
This year, we have been lucky to be working in areas with overlapping research interests. This year, our drones have been photographed from planes by marine mammal aerial survey researchers (as shown above) and ships! Special thank you to Janet Clarke and the research team, for sharing the photo with us!
14 August - Rendevous
ARCTIC DBO-NCIS UPDATE: The big news this week is that scientists and crew aboard the USCGC Healy saw the drones at work! The rendezvous occured near Icy Cape, Alaska, where a series of long-term oceanographic stations have been designated. Here, the ship helped to conduct calibration samples with the drones.
A rendezvous between any large vessel and the drones can be a tricky operation. There is a lot involved - moving platforms, rapidly changing weather and sea conditions, and operators whom are not all in the same place. Fortunately, when we plan and execute carefully, we are able to keep all our people and equipment safe while we collect important calibration data.
The meetup was especially important this year—firstly, it will be our only real external calibration for the carbon sensors on the drones, since we did not visit the M2 mooring in the Bering Sea on our way north. Second, we were able to get a lot closer for this calibration than we did in 2017. With the support of Healy officers and crew and our chief scientists, we were able to launch a small boat and drive up within about 50 feet of the drones to take samples! Our colleague, atmospheric chemist Jessie Creamean (NOAA and CSU) zipped out to fill a few bottles for our team while our lead Jessica Cross, helped to maintain all lines of communication on the bridge.
We won’t get to assess the accuracy of our calibration until the sample dataset is analyzed later this year. Hopefully, getting that close will help eliminate some calibration difference that arose last year. We also took simultaneous oceanographic samples from the ship’s underway seawater system and will be able to use that date for calibration of pH and pCO2 as well. Additionally, one of the carbon sensors on board already has an internal standard it measures against. With four types of standards to compare, we hope to be able to assess 'how good is good enough' when it comes to calibrating the drones.
13 August - Drone View: Big sea, small boat
In the dawn of August 13, scientists aboard the USCG Cutter Healy, spotted one of the drones off the stern of the ship. Lead Scientist for the 2018 Saildrone Arctic DBO-NCIS Mission, Jessica Cross, is currently onboard the Healy and has been anticipating the chance to meet her two drones, in order to conduct a calibration activity of the sensors used to monitor ocean acidification. "Today was the first day we could see our breath," said Cross. "And that means, we are very close to the ice edge." Stay tuned for more updates on the calibration and photos from NOAA Research.
07 August - Drone View: Whale of a tale
Since the launch of the first drones in the Bering Sea, especially after missions that included listening for the North Pacific right whale in 2016 and 2017, we had not spotted a whale via the images captured. While we are certain, the drones see far more than we can imagine in two photos a day, it was an exciting surprise and identification challenge, that appeared. After careful inspection, and a lot of input, it is cleat that this (while not a North Pacific right whale) is a species of baleen whale heading away (so this is the dorsal view), and most likely is a Balaenoptera spp. It's a rather pointy dorsal fin (which could in part be skewed by the camera resolution) and hard to gauge size of the whale, but, if we had to get really specific, we think it is a juvenile fin whale. The white bubble you see is most likely from wash as the fluke (tail) of the whale pulls down as the whale dives. You can learn more about Fin Whales and other species, via NOAA Fisheries Species Directory.
03 August - Using Saildrones to Extend Traditional Ship-based Survey
All of our communication to and from the saildrones is done through a website operated by Saildrone, Inc. We can see where the saildrones are, what measurements they are making, and plan the next place to go. The saildrones send back regular updates of the measurements collected by all of the instruments via satellite, which we can view in near real-time. Viewing the data as they are being collected means we can make sure everything is working as expected, adjust our plans based on what we see. We can see what is happening right now in the Arctic, all from our own desks, which is pretty amazing.
Figure: Map of the backscatter (fish echoes) in the Chukchi Sea made using the near real-time data that has been sent back to us from the saildrones. Between both saildrones, we have already covered half of our survey area, and can see high backscatter between 69.5 and 71°N, an area where surveys conducted in past years have observed high abundances of juvenile Arctic cod.
19 July - Using Saildrones to Extend Traditional Ship-based Survey
ARCTIC EIS Phase II UPDATE: After two weeks and over 800 nautical miles, both saildrones are now through the Bering Strait and into the Chukchi Sea. The saildrone’s ability to travel to remote locations under their own power is a real plus for working in remote areas. This is only the beginning. Combined, the saildrones have over 7,000 nautical miles to go. In a few more days, the two saildrones will part ways and get to work.
As we’ve mentioned, the main goal of the mission is to repeat a survey of the Chukchi Sea that we have conducted with ships in recent years, and lucky for us, with the saildrones, we’re hoping to do it twice. The first saildrone will begin surveying the U.S. Chukchi Sea shelf right away, in the area where previous surveys have observed high abundances of juvenile Arctic cod. This saildrone will make its way to the northwest corner of the survey region at 72.5 °N, where it will make its way back towards Bering Strait.
The second saildrone will also complete a survey of the Chukchi Sea, but we’re planning to have it spend about a month working in other areas first. This week, it will turn right and say farewell to its sailing mate after passing Cape Lisburne at 70 degrees north. From there, it will conduct a series of “mini-surveys” at the site of three moorings we deployed last summer. Then, depending on the amount of sea ice in the area, the saildrone will collect data in deep water (100-1500 m ) along the shelf break of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas before it is sent to start the same Chukchi Sea survey lines as the other saildrone.
18 July - Drone View: Little & Big Diomede Islands
The 58 mile wide Bering Strait links the Bering and Chukchi Seas, forming the Pacific gateway to the Arctic Ocean. The boundary between the United States and Russia extends through this strait, splitting two small islands, Little Diomede (U.S.) and Big Diomede (Russia) only 2.5 miles apart at their closest point. The vehicles stayed well away from land on both sides of the strait, but both were able to see the distant outline of Little Diomede and Fairway Rock on the horizon. This will likely be the last land these drones see for some time.
16 July - New Tools for Ocean Observing 'Tool Box'
ARCTIC DBO-NCIS UPDATE: Multi-platform collaborative studies are becoming more and more common as technology develops. The combination of diverse tools and institutional perspectives allows scientists to assess more complex questions and explore more remote regions than ever before.
"The saildrones are definitely a big part of that movement," said Cross. "Their large size means that they can carry a very big payload with many sensors simultaneously collecting data."
And, they’re also fast-- the latest design is currently averaging speeds between 3 and 4 kts at the start of our mission here. This speed is key to this mission. The saildrones have a very long transit ahead of them: they’ll sail all the way through the Bering Sea and up through Bering Strait to the Northern Chukchi Integrated Study area in the northern Chukchi Sea, over 700 nautical miles from launch point. Covering that distance simply wouldn't’t be possible with a slower platform.
Once the saildrones make the delicate navigational transit through the high-traffic Strait, they’ll split up; one will head towards a Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) zone over the Chukchi continental shelf. The DBO is a network of sites in the Pacific Arctic that are designed as an ecosystem change detection array. The sites aren’t only distributed in space-- the international community also occupies the sites as often as possible, so that together all these visits form a distributed time series at each site. One saildrone will monitor DBO sites 2-5 that are part of this year’s NCIS mission. The other saildrone will participate in a spatial mapping activity, collecting data over the Chukchi Sea shelf and shelf break. If there’s time, we’ll pursue the extreme ice melt experienced this year in the Canada Basin.
The two biogeochemical saildrones involved in this mission are part of the Northern Chukchi Integrated Study sponsored by NOAA’s Arctic Research Program (Arctic-NCIS) with support from the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program and the NOAA Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration Program.
14 July - Drone View: Passing King Island
King Island is a very unique place with an interesting history. Located in the the Bering Sea, King Island is only about a mile wide and long, with steep rocky slopes, and is about 40nm from the closest point of Mainland Alaska. In it's heyday, King Island was home to a local Inupiat population, the Aseuluk or Ukivokmiut (People of the Sea) who built a small village on one of the slopes and survived on fishing, whaling, crabs, and seals. They built their homes and businesses using stilts on the side of the jagged rocky banks. Though no one has lived on the island since the mid-1900's, today, the stilt village remains. You can read more about the island history in an Anchorage Daily News story here.
13 July - Using Saildrones to Extend Traditional Ship-based Survey
ARCTIC EIS Phase II UPDATE: Every other year, the NOAA Fisheries conducts an acoustic-trawl survey of the eastern Bering Sea in summer to estimate the distribution and abundance of walleye pollock. We have found during other surveys in the Eastern and Northern Bering Sea that pollock populations seem to be increasing in areas to the northeast of the traditional acoustic-trawl survey area. This year, the survey was extended further north to look for pollock that may be outside of the standard survey area (in the orange area of the map).
To increase the survey coverage, we are using saildrones to conduct two additional survey lines or transects in the green area during their journey from Dutch Harbor to the Bering Strait. We wanted to get an idea of how much pollock might be outside of the surveyed area, and whether these transects further to the east should be include in the next acoustic-trawl survey in 2020.
It took about five days for both saildrones to run the 280 nautical mile extensions. All systems appear to be working perfectly, and the data that we have received via satellite looks great. The survey lines were completed, and the saildrones are on their way around the east side of St. Lawrence Island and heading towards Bering Strait.
In 2016 and 2017, we worked with a team that installed echosounders (the fishfinders) on saildrones and deployed them in the Bering Sea to measure the abundance of fish in an area where fur seals feed. The echosounder measures fish by transmitting a sound pulse and measuring the sound waves echoing back from fish in the water. By making repeated measurements as it moves through an area, the saildrone can map the abundance of fish. It is difficult to distinguish different species and sizes of fish with the echosounder, so this works best in areas like the Arctic, where a single species and size of fish dominates fish populations in the water. Equipped with echosounders, saildrones are great tools for such regions, where their ability to travel to isolated areas under their own power, stay at sea for many months, and cover a lot of ground can help provide fisheries data in remote areas.
10 July - A series of strong storms will bring active weather to the Bering Sea region this weekend
This week, as our drones make way north to the Arctic, they are encountering some interesting weather. An intense low-pressure center, especially for this time of year, is moving north along the west coast of Alaska. This includes very strong winds from the north that are being observed on St. Lawrence Island and in the vicinity of Bering Strait.
“Winds of this magnitude are observed no more than 1% of the time in this region in July, and so this is a highly unusual event,” said Nick Bond, Washington State Climatologist and Research Scientist with PMEL.
With sustained speeds of about 35 knots with higher gusts, this is not the worst weather the drones have seen before.
“We are operating well, as expected, despite encountering these winds,” said Calvin Mordy, University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean Oceanographer at NOAA. “The saildrones continue to prove their ability to forge through harsh arctic weather.”
NOAA’s National Weather Service has a Gale Warning in effect, with winds decreasing into the weekend.
6 July - Understanding More About Arctic Cod
ARCTIC EIS Phase II UPDATE: We are using echosounders on two of the drones heading to the Arctic this year to determine the amount and distribution of Arctic cod, a fish that just about everything in Arctic waters eats; species of seals, whales, and seabirds depend on them. The drones will later partner with moorings and ships in the Northern Chukchi to assess important questions about Arctic cod populations.
One of the main things we’re trying to do is repeat a ship-based survey over the Chukchi Sea that we have been conducting in recent years. What we have learned from this and other work in the area is that there are very high abundances of young Arctic cod about two inches long (i.e. their first year of life) in the Chukchi Sea, but few adults in the area.
We are trying to understand whether this area serves as a nursery ground, with these fish migrating to other areas in the Arctic, or whether these fish don't survive the winter. Additionally, we know that the environment these fish are living in is undergoing rapid change. Temperatures have increased substantially. The amount and duration of sea ice has decreased. But, we don't know how this will affect the Arctic cod.
The work this year will add another year of observations to help us understand the impact of the changing environment on the distribution of these fish. Since they were launched on June 30, the drones have already made it about 600 nautical miles into their journey, ready to start three months of science in the Arctic.
The saildrones involved in this mission (Arctic EIS Phase II) are contributing to the Arctic Integrated Ecosystem Study Phase II sponsored by the NOAA Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration Program with support from The North Pacific Research Board and NOAA Fisheries.
1 July - Drone View
Each drone has four cameras, positioned on the mast of the wing to aid in vehicle performance and often provide a glimpse into the research missions from the point of view of the drone. Below are some images captured during the launch period the first week of July 2018. You can see some more fun images we caught last year, including snow and a little seal hauled out on the drones!
30 June - LAUNCHED
Monitoring a Changing Arctic
30 June 2018 (Dutch Harbor, AK) - Over the last week, Saildrone Inc. and NOAA have launched the first batch of saildrones in Alaska, Washington and California 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 to measure carbon dioxide and the abundance of Arctic cod in the Arctic Ocean. 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.
Alex De Robertis, Fishery Scientist with NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center, is mapping fish with sound to determine the amount and distribution of Arctic cod, a fish that just about everything in Arctic waters eats; species of seals, whales, and seabirds depend on them. 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 young Arctic cod that are so abundant in the summer on the Chukchi Sea shelf but then mature into comparatively few adult fish by the next year,” says Alex De Robertis, NOAA Fisheries biologist. “They either move to other areas or don’t survive the winter. What is their fate?”
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.
“The saildrone is an amazing device and provides us with an array of information, in some cases information that hasn't been readily available,” said Dr. Cross. “Last summer, two saildrones journeyed north through the Bering Strait for the first time. We’re headed back to the Arctic this summer to learn more about rapid environmental changes occurring here.”
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.
Saildrones powered by wind and the sun’s rays, have traveled about 50,000 miles on NOAA missions with Pacific Marine Environmental Lab scientists, about twice the distance it takes to circumnavigate the earth — since the partnership began in 2014. Each year, Saildrone Inc. refines these vehicles for data collection with NOAA scientists who have helped integrate 18 sensors into the drone. These sensors are capable of collecting measurements such as air and water temperature, wave height, salinity, carbon dioxide concentration, fish abundance and the presence of marine mammals.
The Saildrones are packed with about 20 instruments from the top of their masts down to the bottom of their keels. "These are basically sensor platforms. So, we are getting more data back to make smarter decisions with the ship time that we do have," said NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Director of Engineering Chris Meinig. "We really see the ship time as critical, but how do we augment in this ever-challenging funding environment, right?”
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.
Follow NOAA Research and NOAA Fisheries Alaska on social media via Facebook (NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, NOAA Fisheries Alaska), Twitter (@noaaresearch, @noaafisheriesak) and Instagram (noaaresearch).
19 June - On their way!
After several weeks of final testing and pre-mission shakedown cruises, the four drones have been loaded into containers and are en-route to Dutch Harbor for deployment.
01 May - 2018 Saildrone Missions Overview
This mission will be focused on collecting sea-air carbon dioxide (CO2) flux measurements as well as currents, in regionally focused areas of the Chukchi Sea with some work south of Bering Strait for baseline observations and reconnaissance in partnership with the Distributed Biological Laboratory, Northern Chukchi Integrated Study sponsored by NOAA’s Arctic Research Program (Arctic-NCIS).
The overall goal of DBO-NCIS is to document and understand ongoing changes to the Pacific-Arctic ecosystem. In conjunction with the DBO program, the NCIS aims to elucidate the physical-biological links that result in ecologically important hotspots in the Northern Bering and Chukchi Seas and Canada Basin
This mission will be focused on conducting an acoustic survey to determine the distribution of pelagic fishes within the U.S. Continental Shelf Region of the Chukchi Sea. This survey will provide data during a gap ship year of a research program investigating mechanisms that influence the distribution and interaction of biology in the region.
The saildrones in this mission will conduct a fisheries & surface oceanographic survey of the Chukchi Sea with transects extending to coastal regions of the Beaufort Sea to support research objectives within the Arctic Integrated Ecosystem Survey, Phase II. This work will support the dissertation of University of Washington graduate student Robert Levine.
The primary operating region will be the Chukchi Sea, with focused efforts conducted in the vicinity of 3 bottom-mounted echosounder moorings. The survey is a replicate of the ship-based survey conducted during the 2017 Arctic Integrated Ecosystem Survey Phase II/ Arctic Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (AIERP). A limited amount of net sampling will be conducted on in August 2018 from the USCGC Healy. Data from this survey will provide information in a gap year of the program (ship-based surveys are supported in 2017 & 2019) to help understand how climate change will affect the distribution and abundance of Arctic cod, which are keystone species and the food source for many for marine mammals, fishes, and seabirds throughout the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
01 May - 2018 Saildrone Missions Team
We are currently prepping for the 2018 missions. In the meantime, here are the 2018 missions team members.
NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Lab ENGINEERING - CHRISTIAN MEINIG - NOAA/PMEL and NOAH LAWRENCE-SLAVAS - NOAA/PMEL RESEARCH SCIENTISTS OCEANOGRAPHY - Dr. CALVIN MORDY - JISAO/PMEL, Dr. JESSICA CROSS - NOAA/PMEL, Dr. PHYLLIS STABENO - NOAA/PMEL and Dr. NED COKELET - NOAA/PMEL FISHERIES ACOUSTICS - Dr. ALEX De ROBERTIS - NOAA/AFSC and ROBERT LEVINE - UW/AFSC NON-FEDERAL PARTNERS RICHARD JENKINS - SAILDRONE INC., IVAR WANGEN - SIMRAD AS/KONGSBERG PROJECT COORDINATOR HEATHER TABISOLA - JISAO/PMEL
01 February - Where We Left Off
In 2017, we pushed observational boundaries by completing the first transit through Bering strait, the first arctic basin observations, reaching within 7 nm from sea ice edge; and the farthest north an ASV has traversed - all with the saildrone. For 2018, we are pushing those boundaries farther in the Chukchi. While we will not have any fur seal or whale research this season, we will focus on fish acoustic surveys and furthering the ocean acidification research from past years.
There are two missions planned for the Chukchi Sea in 2018. In partnership with the Distributed Biological Observatory, Northern Chukchi Integrated Study (Arctic DBO-NCIS, sponsored by NOAA’s Arctic Research Program), two Saildrones will measure currents and collect sea-air carbon dioxide (CO2) flux measurements in regionally focused areas of the Chukchi Sea with some work south of Bering Strait for baseline observations and reconnaissance. In partnership with the Arctic IES Phase II program (funded by the North Pacific Research Board), a second pair of Saildrones will conduct an acoustic fish survey (in collaboration with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center). The four Saildrones will depart from Nome or Dutch Harbor in July, sail through Bering Strait, and conduct research in the Chukchi Sea for several months. The missions will further demonstrate the operation of these platforms at high-latitudes, provide the first fully autonomous acoustic fish survey, and provide field tests of an updated ASVCO2 system that was re-designed to address challenges observed during the 2017 mission. To the extent possible, we also plan to coordinate these missions with the Stratified Ocean Dynamics of the Arctic (SODA) program sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, which will be operating in the same area towards the end of the planned FY18 Saildrone missions.