UH scientists use seagliders, buoyancy-driven underwater vehicles that "fly" through the water and make oceanographic measurements traditionally collected by research vessels or moored instruments, but at a fraction of the cost.
Seagliders swim for data
Hawaii researchers are collecting deep-ocean data about 100 miles north of here without leaving their computers.
Two seagliders are doing the work and reporting back by satellite to a computer a couple times a day, said David Karl, who heads the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education.
"You can do an experiment in a bottle or beaker, but it might not track the same as an experiment might in the real world because of feedbacks and effects," he said. "We want to do experiments in the whole open ocean, and to do that we've got to build new experimental tools. We can put sensors on them and while running an experiment have robots out in the ocean making measurements and reporting back how the experiment is going in time and space."
The researchers also are trying to put samplers on the gliders, he said.
Karl said he has acquired four seagliders from the University of Washington's School of Oceanography and Applied Physics Laboratory, and Brian Taylor, dean of the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology, bought two.
Seagliders are described as "a buoyancy driven autonomous underwater vehicle" on the Hawaii Ocean Time-series Web site. "They fly through the water with extremely modest energy requirements using changes in buoyancy for thrust coupled with a stable, low-drag hydrodynamic shape."
Karl said he would like to have about 10 seagliders, with one going back and forth through the ocean to California and another cruising between here and the equator "to get a better sense of environmental variability in the North Pacific."
Scientists can use them for "general surveillance," he said, sending them to open-ocean plant blooms and as deep as 3,300 feet to look at temperature, oxygen and chlorophyl.
They can make the same oceanographic measurements as a research ship at much less cost -- about $300 a day per glider compared with $30,000 a day for a ship -- Karl said.