How a sailing drone became an oceanographic tool to explore the US Arctic

Heather M. Tabisola1, Calvin Mordy1, Jessica N Cross2, Christian Meinig2, Chidong Zhang3, Carey Kuhn4, Alex De Robertis5, Edward D Cokelet6, Noah Lawrence-Slavas2, Chelle L Gentemann7 and Richard Jenkins8, (1)Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, Seattle, WA, United States, (2)NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, WA, United States, (3)NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, United States, (4)NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Marine Mammal Laboratory, Seattle, WA, United States, (5)NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering, Seattle, WA, United States, (6)Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, WA, United States, (7)Remote Sensing Systems, Santa Rosa, United States, (8)Saildrone Inc, Alameda, CA, United States
NOAA’s Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration program focuses on the development of specialized tools - many developed through public-private partnerships and tailored to the challenging environmental and logistical conditions found in the Arctic. One successful development is the saildrone.

To date, saildrones have traveled some 80,000 nautical miles on NOAA missions. In 2016 Bering Sea Mission, two saildrones conducted acoustic fish surveys of walleye pollock, observed the presence of the critically endangered North Pacific right whale, and tracked tagged northern fur seals. The following year, three saildrones continued the walleye pollock surveys and fur seal research in the Bering Sea, and also completed the first autonomous crossing of the Bering Strait to measure CO2 concentrations in the Arctic. Last year, four saildrones on two concurrent missions measured ocean currents and air-sea carbon flux and surveyed Arctic cod in the Chukchi Sea. Just this spring, large saildrone fleets were launched in the arctic and along the west coast of California

This technology is rapidly expanding ocean observing capacity to augment traditional oceanographic observations and push boundaries with cost-effective adaptive sampling. NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, the University of Washington Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean, and Saildrone Inc (Alameda, CA). explored the use of these unmanned surface vehicles in the Bering Sea to demonstrate the ability of the novel platform to conduct oceanographic research in a harsh, high-latitude environment. Five years later, we’ve gone farther north than any other autonomous vehicle and helped develop an oceanographic research tool used pole to pole.

In three minutes, we will demystify the exhilarating pace and unique collaboration of the saildrone platform development at PMEL and showcase its capabilities through examples of our Arctic missions across the past five years.