Drone Science on the High Seas

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Picture a drone, and what probably comes to mind is an unmanned aerial device surveying a tower, or upsetting airport travelers. Ocean research, however, is being aided by Saildrone, a floating venture launched by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). According to the Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory, the drone explorers have the following goals:

  1. To understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts;
  2. To share that knowledge and information with others; and
  3. To conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. 

“PMEL has pioneered the application of saildrones to study the marine ecosystem in the open water away from sea ice,” said Chidong Zhang, oceanographer with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab. “This year, we plan to approach the sea ice—as close as we can. The saildrones gather a much richer, high-resolution dataset to supplement foundational data collected by buoys and vessels used to build forecasting models today.”

Saildrone can travel places where scientists cannot easily go. The data gathered tell researchers about changes in the arctic environment as well as general climate trends.  Researchers were excited by the video Saildrone recently sent back from the edge of the Behring Sea ice floe. Photos which can be viewed on NOAA’s Saildrone blog. Just as the aerial drones can scope out fire and earthquake hazards, their seaworthy counterparts relay back information about our oceans.

July 3, 2019

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