An ambitious two-week mission involving 10 marine robots has commenced off northwest Scotland.
The Oban-based Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) have teamed up for the deployment and are working with more than 20 partners across science, government and industry to field-test novel marine autonomous systems for long-endurance ocean monitoring.
The third in a series of demonstrator missions, this latest phase sees the largest fleet of marine robotic vehicles simultaneously deployed in UK waters. The mission comprises seven submarine Seagliders and three surface Wave Gliders that are working together in fleets to collect a range of environmental data.
As well as collecting crucial oceanographic data, the project is also part of the Royal Navy’s ‘Unmanned Warrior’ marine robot demonstration. Real-time data is shown via the mission website, and will ultimately be available to the marine science community via the British Oceanographic Data Centre (BODC).
NOC’s Professor Russell Wynn, chief scientist of the mission, said: “This deployment will showcase the capabilities of marine robots to the Royal Navy, and other defence and industry partners. The results will also inform the wider scientific and environmental community of the benefits of these new technologies as an alternative to manned vessels, which are relatively expensive to operate and have a larger environmental impact.”
Fraser Macdonald, who is co-ordinating the SAMS contribution, added: “Since 2009, SAMS has been using marine robots to support international science programmes through our North Atlantic Glider Base and the Scottish Marine Robotics Facility, which has unique access to the deep waters of the northeast Atlantic. Participating as a key partner in this mission is a fantastic opportunity to contribute our scientific expertise and local knowledge.”
As well as collecting basic information on ocean temperature, salinity, oxygen, turbidity, and near-surface weather conditions, the Seagliders will also be measuring ocean currents, water depth, and the abundance of plankton in hotspots such as water mass boundaries (fronts). Some of the vehicles will be travelling more than 150 kilometres offshore of the Outer Hebrides, and venturing into waters up to a mile deep.
Industry partners providing vehicles and piloting support include Liquid Robotics, Boeing, RS Aqua and Blue Ocean Monitoring, Royal Navy are deploying and recovering the submarine gliders, software experts such as Esri UK, Helyx and SeeByte will help scientists visualise incoming data, and Plymouth Marine Laboratory and UK Met Office will ensure the most up-to-date satellite images and weather forecasts to support mission planning.