A fleet of 16 autonomous submarines will be sent off to gather data about the world's oceans

Fleet of underwater drones to map world's oceans

A fleet of 16 autonomous underwater gliders will be sent off to explore the world’s oceans as part of an ambitious research project by Rutgers University researchers.

Part of the Challenger Glider Mission Project, the underwater drones, each 2.2 metres long, will cruise the oceans at a rather modest speed of 35km per day gathering data about the current state of the oceans.

Moving forward following a tooth-shaped gliding trajectory, the unmanned submarines will rely solely on energy from buoyancy changes to move forward.

The drones are based on the Webb Slocum glider platform developed by the American company Teledyne. Each of the gliders will be equipped with a GPS receiver together with an altitude sensor, depth sensor and an altimeter for precise navigation. Every time the unmanned submarine surfaces, it will send data to the operators via a telecommunications link provided by Iridium satellites.

"The health of our oceans is truly an indicator of the health of our planet, and the Challenger Glider Mission will provide the kind of high-resolution data desperately needed by researchers to evaluate and assess the current ocean state," said David Wigglesworth, the vice president and general manager of Iridium. "We're thrilled to be associated with the project, and excited to provide connectivity via the Iridium satellite network for this endeavour."

Each glider will be continuously collecting data about the oceans’ temperature, salinity and currents. The information will be used to improve existing ocean models, and as a result, enhance weather and climate forecast accuracy.

Researchers will also try to monitor phytoplankton around the vehicles using sustainable optic sensors that require particularly low amounts of power and can withstand extremely harsh sea conditions.

The Challenger Glider Mission project, put together by the Coastal Ocean Observation Lab of the Rutgers University, has taken inspiration from the 1872 ocean survey conducted by the HMS Challenger.

Starting this year and scheduled to last until 2016, the project aims to collect an unprecedented amount of data about the state of the world’s oceans. Each of the 16 gliders operated by the Rutgers University team is expected to travel between 6,000 and 8,000km during the mission’s duration

"The technology underpinnings of this mission are truly enabling our researchers to gather more and better data than ever before, enhancing the basis of knowledge for future generations," said Scott Glenn, co-leader of the Challenger Glider Mission and Professor of Physical Oceanography at Rutgers University. "Part of our goal with this mission is to increase global ocean literacy. This expanded dataset will enable students and researchers to focus on the science of their local waters, as well as be a part of a global research community, all working toward understanding the ocean's role in regulating the changing climate and weather," he said.

Watch Doug Webb, the creator of the Slocum Gliders, talking about the unique autonomous submarines:

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