Saildrone, the company which designed the first unmanned surface vehicle (USV) to circumnavigate Antarctica, has announced a public-private partnership (PPP) grant with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in order to create the Saildrone Surveyor, a vessel utilized for deep-water ocean mapping.
By making use of multibeam sonar, the Saildrone Surveyor will relay a comprehensive mapping of water columns and the ocean floor and relay the data back in real-time. This type of sonar is also capable of distinguishing the type of ocean floor such as clay, sand, mud or rock, information that is useful for multiple purposes. The new vehicle will be larger than its predecessors to allow for sufficient speed, power and the greater load it will be carrying.
MBARI will focus its attention on equipping the vessel with environmental DNA or eDNA capabilities. eDNA is DNA that is gathered from a number of environmental samples such as mucus, excrement or skin cells from marine animals, instead of from one specific organism. While UNH will work on creating “autonomous data quality monitoring tools”, as well as examine and scrutinize the information collected.
The three-year grant is endorsed by the Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP). The voyage will play a role in the global study of the seafloor, similar to the Seabed 2030 project whose goal is to create a decisive map of Earth’s oceans by 2030.
The Saildrone vessel will be powered by the sun to operate onboard instruments and by the wind for propulsion. Another difference between Surveyor and the previous models is this USV will be piloted remotely, whereas the Gen5 Saildrone used a number of set waypoints to autonomously navigate.
Richard Jenkins, founder, and CEO of Saildrone spoke about the project saying, “We are very pleased to be working with UNH and MBARI to further ocean characterization research using eDNA and achieve global bathymetry goals, like those set forth by Seabed 2030. Over the past five years, Saildrone USV’s have performed extensive missions in the Arctic, Antarctic, and Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, proving it to be a capable and effective vehicle for collecting data in the most extreme environments. Saildrone Surveyor is an exciting evolution that leverages all our expertise and experience to create an extremely capable platform.”
Along with the above-mentioned equipment, Saildrone Surveyor will also have on-board an array of meteorological and oceanographic instruments to collect data above and below the water’s surface, which provides crucial information for a number of fields.
“This innovative partnership will produce a much more efficient and cost-effective way to collect needed data for mapping the ocean and monitoring the marine environment. The data we will collect will play a critical role in safety of navigation, tsunami and storm surge predictions, ecosystem and other environmental studies, and modelling climate change,” said Larry Mayer, professor of Earth Science and Ocean Engineering at UNH’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping and co-head of Seabed 2030’s Arctic and North Pacific Regional Data Center.
The Saildrone Surveyor is scheduled to set sail in the spring of 2020.