SAMS news room

UK’s largest marine robot fleet defies storms to complete successful mission

A fleet of ten marine robots has successfully completed an ambitious two-week mission off northwest Scotland, despite being hit by a succession of Atlantic storms with winds gusting up to 60mph and waves up to seven metres high.

The mission comprised the largest simultaneous deployment of marine robots yet attempted in UK waters, with seven submarine Seagliders and three surface Wave Gliders operating in challenging waters around the Outer Hebrides. The robot fleet was collecting a variety of marine environmental data in support of the Royal Navy’s ‘Unmanned Warrior’ programme, including ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen, turbidity, tidal currents, and surface weather and wave conditions.

While the robots were taking a battering from the weather, the mission pilots and scientists were safe and warm operating the fleet via satellite from the comfort of dedicated operations rooms.

The Seagliders surveyed an area of more than 5,000 square kilometres during the two-week deployment, venturing up to 125 kilometres off the island of Barra into waters deeper than 1,000 metres.

The Wave Gliders ventured up to 150 kilometres north of Lewis, each covering a distance of more than 300 kilometres. The ability of the Wave Gliders to accurately target features such as oceanic fronts, visible on satellite images provided by Plymouth Marine Laboratory, was a particular success given the combination of strong winds, waves and tides.

The mission was co-ordinated by the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOC) and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), Oban and involved more than 20 industry and government partners. The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) was the primary sponsor of the mission, and all of the collected data will be archived at the British Oceanographic Data Centre and made available for future scientific research.

Professor Russell Wynn of NOC, who was Chief Scientist of the mission, said: “This mission benefitted hugely from the local knowledge at SAMS and the offshore expertise provided by the Royal Navy, which enabled us to safely deploy and recover the ten vehicles in difficult conditions; it also highlighted the ability of marine robots to continue collecting high quality data in sea states that would have hampered or even terminated traditional vessel-based observations.”

Fraser Macdonald, who co-ordinated the SAMS contribution, added: “SAMS has a long history of working in this region. The unique Seaglider data collected during this mission will contribute to our ongoing research into the complex oceanographic processes that influence changes in global climate, including how increasing ocean temperatures are affecting the northeast Atlantic and adjacent regions including the Arctic.”
Most of the Seagliders were piloted via satellite from operations rooms in the Marine Robotics Innovation Centre at the NOC and at the Scottish Marine Robotics Facility at SAMS, but some project partners piloted vehicles from as far away as the US and Australia.

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