Robots set sail on scientific mission in the South West of England

A fleet of seven aquatic robots has set sail off southwest England to collect scientific data about ocean processes and marine life.

The vehicles are aiming to travel up to 300 miles over the next 20 days in what has been described as the most ambitious project of its kind in Europe.

Co-ordinated by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), the exercise includes battery-powered submarine gliders and surface vehicles powered by wind, wave and solar energy. All of the vehicles are unmanned and communication with the fleet will take place via satellite.

According to NOC, the vehicles will cross a series of physical boundaries in the ocean during their three-week journey. These boundaries – or fronts – separate water masses of different properties with targeted fronts off southwest UK providing suitable conditions for plankton growth, which in turn can attract large numbers of fish, seabirds, dolphins and basking sharks.


Waveglider receiving last minutes checks before being deployed

Source: NOC


The deployed vehicles are carrying a range of instruments for observing these animals. As well as measuring the temperature of the water and the weather conditions at the ocean surface, they can detect the density of plankton in the water; listen for clicks and whistles of dolphins and porpoises, and image seabirds using surface cameras. These data will help scientists map the distribution of the fronts and their associated fauna.

NOC’s Dr Russell Wynn is scientific co-ordinator of the exercise, while Dr Maaten Furlong is responsible for managing a number of the vehicles.

In a statement, Dr Wynn said: “Nothing on this scale has been attempted before. The range of vehicles and instruments being deployed at the same time is unique, and they will generate vast amounts of valuable scientific data.

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October 6, 2014



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