Case study: measuring ocean acidification in the Gulf of Mexico

Customer: University of Southern Mississippi

Every day, oceans absorb about a third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the air from humankind’s industrial activities. But as we continue to burn fossil fuels, ocean waters are becoming more acidic threatening the health of global marine ecosystems.

“The ocean is hugely undersampled. Wave Gliders have the potential to revolutionize how we measure and understand the ocean.”

- Dr Chris Simoniello, education and outreach coordinator, Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System

How We Helped

Dr. Stephan Howden of the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) is working with Liquid Robotics to monitor changes in ocean acidity in the Gulf of Mexico using a CO2 sensor mounted on an autonomous, wave-powered Wave Glider™ ocean robot. The Wave Glider was deployed near the USM Central Gulf of Mexico Ocean Observing System (CenGOOS) at 30.0424°N, 88.6473°W so that the Glider traverse begins and ends at the CenGOOS buoy, which has a similar CO2 measuring system developed and built by the Pacific Marine and Environmental Laboratory.

“We are testing the feasibility of using the Wave Glider as a mobile platform to increase spatial coverage related to climate change science beyond what we can get with ship- based measurements or instruments on buoys,” said Chris Simoniello, education and outreach coordinator, Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System. “Part of the study is to ground truth the data collected by the Wave Glider with long-standing measurements made with similar instruments mounted on buoys.”

The Wave Glider is equipped with sensors to measure carbon dioxide (CO2) and dissolved oxygen levels, pH, water temperature, conductivity, air temperature, barometric pressure, and wind speed and direction. The carbon dioxide sensor, which measures the mole fraction of CO2 on either side of the air-sea interface, was developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

The GCOOS team is working with Liquid Robotics to visualize the data on the GCOOS website using an ESRI-GIS-based trajectory and data display viewer. The team is looking to integrate data from various sources into numerical models that will drive forecasts related to climate change. While tests are still underway, the Wave Glider offers several advantages that allow it to complement existing resources. For example, Wave Gliders provide greater spatial coverage than traditional buoys and can collect data at different depths. The information from Wave Gliders provides a profile picture of the water column, measuring color (chlorphyll), temperature, salinity, pH levels and more, unlike satellites that provide large spatial coverage of the “skin of the ocean.”

The Results

“The ocean is hugely undersampled,” said Chris Simoniello. “Wave Gliders have the potential to revolutionize how we measure and understand the ocean. It [Wave Glider] is largely unattended and can transmit in real time. It can travel almost anywhere, and can do things humans can’t. It can operate in hazardous conditions (deep water horizon spill), and still provide critical information, very quickly. And it can be rapidly deployed in an emergency.”

The Wave Glider is reporting data in near-real time and is available on the GCOOS Data Portal.

Liquid Robotics, June 2013. Web site.

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