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Uncrewed sailing boat advances ocean data collection in the Atlantic

An estimated 22 000 km and 370 days later, a mission to collect critical ocean data from the tropical Atlantic ends with success.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment

A small autonomous sailing drone has reached port after a successful ocean data collecting mission in the tropical Atlantic. Supported by the EU-funded EuroSea project, the year-long mission involved the collection of detailed data about CO2 concentrations on the ocean surface in a remote area of the tropical Atlantic. The aim was to improve global carbon projections and help pave the way for sustainable ocean resource management. Called SD 1079, the uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) was developed by United States (US) company Saildrone to collect high-resolution ocean data from areas where traditional data collection through research ships and buoys is either too costly or poses logistical challenges. To complete its mission, SD 1079 spent 370 days at sea and travelled a total of 11 910 nautical miles (nm), the equivalent of 22 057 km. The data it collected was from a highly biologically productive and nutrient-rich area of the ocean whose strong currents and light winds make navigation extremely difficult. “This has been a phenomenal mission,” remarks Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins in a news item posted on ‘Sail-World Cruising’. “Not just by the range and endurance of SD 1079, but by the ability to take these crucial measurements in very remote parts of our oceans. Areas that are very hard to reach with traditional technologies like research ships.”

An eventful and productive journey

The 23-foot wind- and solar-powered USV was deployed in Newport, Rhode Island, on 6 July 2021. The original plan had been to launch it from Cabo Verde in the central Atlantic, but COVID-19 travel restrictions forced a change of plans. As SD 1079 embarked on its additional 3 100-nm journey across the North Atlantic, it encountered Tropical Storm Elsa and then battled light winds across the top of the Bermuda high for several weeks before the prevailing winds made it possible to turn south. As reported in the news item, SD 1079’s 120 days of data collection officially began on 18 September when the USV approached an Argo float to collect comparative measurements. It then travelled 85 nm towards São Vicente, an island in the Cabo Verde archipelago, where it was met by a team led by Dr Björn Fiedler of EuroSea project coordinator GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Germany, for coordinated sampling. After its bottom was cleared of marine growth, the sailing drone sailed to João Valente Bank, a coral reef between the Cabo Verde islands of Boa Vista and Maio. In these shallower waters, it used hydroacoustic technology to determine the distribution of fish and zooplankton around the remote reef. After completing its data collection for the EuroSea (Improving and Integrating European Ocean Observing and Forecasting Systems for Sustainable use of the Oceans) project in February 2022, SD 1079 travelled 4 500 nm back to the US, arriving safely in Jacksonville, Florida, on 11 July. The high-resolution raw data collected will now undergo quality control by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in the US. “Once we have the final data, we can finally start working on comparing the different carbon observations with each other and derive air-sea carbon fluxes,” concludes Dr Fiedler. For more information, please see: EuroSea project website


EuroSea, uncrewed surface vehicle, USV, ocean, Atlantic, tropical, carbon, drone

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