Saildrone’s Antarctic Circumnavigation: A Story of Collaboration between Ocean Research Scientists, Ocean Industry, and Philanthropy

Nora Cohen, Saildrone Inc., Alameda, CA, United States, Sebastien de Halleux, Saildrone Inc, Alameda, CA, United States and Richard Jenkins, Saildrone Inc., Alameda, United States
The Southern Ocean plays a key role in regulating heat and carbon for our planet. However, it is It is so remote and inhospitable that the region remains under-sampled and hard to access for scientific research. Saildrone Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) are flexible and efficient autonomous vehicles which combine wind-powered vehicle technology with solar-powered meteorological and oceanographic sensors for long-range data collection missions in the toughest of ocean environments.

In August 2019, Saildrone SD1020 became the first unmanned system to successfully complete an Antarctic Circumnavigation, collecting valuable atmospheric and oceanographic data for over 200 days, including CO2 measurements. This feat was made possible by combining engineering innovation, science partnership, and catalytic support from a philanthropic partner.

All data was immediately made publicly available at no cost to the global scientific community in order to accelerate our understanding of critical processes affecting humanity. The mission was also an educational outreach initiative, aiming to expose future generations to the rapid changes taking place in the Antarctic through a series of STEM lesson plans developed by Saildrone and the 1851 Trust. Now that the mission was successfully completed, Saildrone’s collaborators across 12 institutions are analyzing the vital new data collected from previously unsampled areas of Antarctica, and providing feedback for what a more permanent Southern Ocean USV fleet could achieve over time the augment the scarce infrastructure currently in place.

In this session, Saildrone will discuss the challenges and successes of this collaboration as an example of the power of partnership to unlock new frontiers in data collection and exploration. Saildrone will also ask the question of how to integrate this type of collaboration into the Global Ocean Observing System, and how to increase these types of partnerships to further global scientific discovery.