Drones in Arctic Research

Description

SAN DIEGO RESEARCHERS ARE DEPLOYING NEW TOOLS TO STUDY THE ANTARCTIC'S UNDERWATER FOOD WEB.
NOAA SCIENTISTS HAVE TRACKED KRILL POPULATIONS IN THE SOUTHERN OCEANS FOR YEARS, BUT FOR THE FIRST TIME, THEY PLAN TO USE AUTONOMOUS DRONES TO HELP WITH THE RESEARCH.
KPBS REPORTER ERIK ANDERSON HAS DETAILS.
{Krill are tiny crustaceans that got a moment in the spotlight during the 20-11 animated film Happy Feet 2.

00:26 - 00:36
"Will, we are krill. We are meant to look the same. Not me bill, there's only one of me in all the world. I am one in a krillion."

Krill are an important part of the Antarctic food web that feeds whales, seals and penguins and people. The tiny animals are known for their large underwater swarms.

02:09 - 02:19 "So this is all we are. Lunch. To think we spent our whole lives not knowing the truth. Goodbye Krill world."

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have tracked fluctuating krill populations for years. NOAA's Christian Reiss says it is part of an international effort.

CR 11:49:15 - 11:49:30 "So we study krill so we understand whether its trends and abundance are likely to be influenced by how much fishing effort we do, but also whether that fishing effort will impact the upper trophic levels like penguins and seals."

But packing up a research vessel and traveling to the bottom of the world takes time and money. Both are in short supply at a federal agency with an eye on shrinking budgets, So Reiss says his team hopes to do much of that work with autonomous drones.

CR 11:48:31 - 11:48:43 "We can collect data on the water conditions. We can collect data on how much food is out there for the krill. And literally, we can collect data on how much biomass of krill there is."

AC 11:23:50 - 11:25:08 "…..Through there…okay go up a little bit….hold the outside…..alright, let it go, it looks good, you got the tail? …… alright let's take it up…..let's go south…..alright, lets put it down. You got it stephanie……

Anthony Cossio handles one of two Teledyne-manufactured undersea gliders. He's inside a unique lab at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla. The 66 foot long tank here holds more than 528-thousand gallons of seawater. That makes it large enough to put one of the gliders through its paces.

Once in the water, the glider's software takes over. At the surface it'll connect with a satellite.

AC 11:28:24 -- 11:28:38 "Then it'll go get its GPS coordinates and make sure it knows where it's at. Figure out where it's going based on the directions we told it. And then it starts to dive, right now it's starting to dive."
.
Today, the mission is a couple of routine dives inside the large tank. The watertight drone is slow, but deliberate.

JW 12:18:31 - 12:18:39 "these are deep gliders so they go to a thousand meters and these are also the biggest gliders that Teledyne has manufactured."

Jen Walsh is one of three pilots that will watch over the drones on their long winter mission in the Antarctic. She says the machines will do most of the work when they're in the field. They'll dive and surface as they go back and forth over a preplanned survey area. Piloting is mostly a hands off operation.

JW 12:14:08 -- 12:14:08 "If the glider is in an area of not very complex bathymetry, we're not worried about ice where it is. Maybe it is pretty far off shore at this point. Sometimes it means keeping an eye on it, making sure it surfaces when we expect it to surface. And sometimes I won't have to give it any direction at all."

The vessels will have to navigate very cold and possibly rough seas. A lot can go wrong. Walsh says the drones do surface and check in regularly and she can monitor the gliders on any internet connected computer.

JW 00:08:53 -- 00:09:14 "When the glider surfaces and connects to satellite it has a very specific ding-ding it is like a Pavlovian response. My husband at home it would hear it. Oh, your glider's up. Which just means it's connected which is good. Because if it's doing one thousand meter dives which it will in the Antarctic, that can take up to four hours."

The drones got a workout in the ocean in early June. Research Biologist Anthony Cossio dropped the drones into the water off the coast of San Diego. The vessels spent two weeks at sea practicing maneuvers over and around the San Diego Trough. NOAA officials say the vessels will head south this fall for their first research mission in the Antarctic.
Erik Anderson KPBS News

Metadata

Title: Drones in Arctic Research

Type: Segment

Subject(s): Other

Public Broadcasting Station or Institution: KPBS

Original Broadcast/Publish Date: 08/16/2018

Runtime: 00:04:20

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  • Term: In perpetuity
  • Releases: Unlimited
  • Editing Allowed?: Yes
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Language: English

 

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