Autonomous glider withstands two hurricanes while transmitting continuous ocean data (text & video)

A Texas A&M Liquid Robotics WaveGlider is collecting and transmitting water quality data from above the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico.

video still of a group of students in hard hats on a boat preparing to launch a yellow glider into the water
The Texas A&M Liquid Robotics WaveGlider SV3 was deployed Aug. 13, 2021. Courtesy of Steve DiMarco

Today, 100 miles off the coast of Texas, a 10-foot-long yellow autonomous glider is riding waves as it patrols the perimeter above the NOAA Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

It is collecting water quality data related to ocean acidification, which is essential to monitoring the long-term survival of the sanctuary’s unique coral reef ecosystem, and transmitting it to a research team that includes Texas A&M University System scientists.

The Texas A&M Liquid Robotics WaveGlider SV3’s 90-day deployment — the first of its kind in the U.S. — is part of a multi-institutional collaborative project funded by NOAA’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Office Ocean Acidification Program (OAP). Project partners include the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Texas A&M University’s Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG), the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS), Liquid Robotics, and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

But the WaveGlider’s mission has been bumpier than expected. It has survived two named hurricanes — Ida and Nicholas — since Texas A&M GERG scientists deployed it Aug. 13 into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Our lab has been working with the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary since 2013 collecting seawater carbonate data,” Hu said. “But sample collections have been mostly on a seasonal basis and rely on the sanctuary’s research vessel, the R/V Manta. The WaveGlider offers an excellent opportunity for us to continuously monitor this area for an extended period of time with unprecedented temporal resolution. We can’t wait to see what the on-board sensors will reveal for the entire deployment.”

Researchers Work Together To Protect Marine Sanctuary

The groundbreaking work is being made possible through collaborations with several partners. DiMarco is co-leading the research, while Kerri Whilden, GERG assistant research scientist and GCOOS oceanographer, is leading at-sea logistics, sensor integration, deployment and recovery operations. Liquid Robotics technicians are remotely piloting the ASV.

The WaveGlider mission support is provided by the GCOOS glider-piloting dashboard and data portal known as GANDALF. In addition to providing real-time vehicle positioning information, GANDALF can show data layers that can be individually displayed on the base map, including visible and infrared satellite images, sea surface temperature and chlorophyll images, sea surface heights and navigational charts.

“The Flower Garden Banks is a stunningly beautiful coral reef, and it’s just off the Texas coast,” said Anthony Knap, director of GERG. “Not many people know about it, but it is very well known in the diving community. We’re interested in it scientifically because it’s vulnerable to the harmful effects of ocean acidification, which can cause bleaching and death to corals, and if the building blocks of a reef, corals, start to die, then all the rest of that ecosystem — the fish, the turtles, the whale sharks, all the life that depends upon that coral reef — could also be in danger.”

Autonomous Glider Gives Continual Data, Reduces Costs And Risks

The WaveGlider’s 90-day solo voyage is an important test run for ocean science.

If it can successfully patrol above the marine sanctuary, regularly measuring and transmitting water quality data, then a whole new set of possibilities will open up for oceanographers: remote, continual data collection that is not dependent on a stable sea-state, as research vessel voyages are.

The deployment was a one-of-a-kind experience for those students and graduate students, and the importance of their work is clear, the scientists said: if the Flower Garden Banks sanctuary is not protected from ocean acidification, its corals and entire ecosystem are in danger.

Leslie Lee, Texas A&M Today, 27 September 2021. Full article.

  • Reset


OA-ICC Highlights