April 19, 2009

Yellow Glider To Make Second Attempt To Cross The Atlantic

Rutgers University researchers will make a second attempt to send its miniature yellow submarine across the Atlantic ocean to gather data from underneath the waves.

The launch is set for Wednesday, on Earth Day, assuming conditions cooperate.

"The launching is tremendously exciting because there is just so much that we don't really know about what happens in the oceans," said Jane Lubchenco, who leads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"The capacity to fly through the ocean, across the Atlantic, taking data about temperature, salinity and other properties of the water gives us keen insight into what's happening down there," she said during an interview with the Associated Press.

The first sub was lost in 2008 before it completed its trip. The same Rutgers University team in New Brunswick, N.J, assembled the new, enhanced version of the glider.  

The unmanned, motor-less glider will dive and rise in pursuit of currents that will carry it along without the need for refueling.  
The glider will transmit its findings back to scientists every time it surfaces. Student researchers will direct the device's maneuvers via radio waves.

"The ocean plays such a critical role in the dynamics of the climate system, having a better understanding of what's happening in real time is invaluable information," said Lubchenco.

"We're beginning to be able to infer much about the kinds of plants and animals and microbes that may be present from some of the kinds of data that the glider will be taking," she said.

Scott Glenn, a Rutgers professor who is leading the project and co-director of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Coastal Ocean Observing System, said the glider will be able to make daily assessments of water conditions.

"If we can do it with one, we can do it with 10," Glenn told the Associated Press, adding that the project would ultimately make an impact on forecasting ocean conditions.

"That's important because the ocean is very important for climate change and it is undersampled," he said.

The robots could be sent into hurricanes and into Arctic and Antarctic conditions, he said.

"If you lose them it's sad, but its just wires, you can build another one. These are the things that we can take risks with."

"We're doing some risk taking here that will benefit the entire scientific community."

The glider's enhancements include new software, an improved surface to discourage marine organisms from attaching to the device and the ability to dive down as far as 600 feet.  

The glider has also been reinforced to withstand bites from creatures such as sharks "“ an important enhancement since the first glider was lost after it developed a leak, possibly by a bite.

Like the original version, the new yellow sub has been named Scarlet Knight, after the Rutgers school mascot.

The glider is part of the Integrated Ocean Observing System, an initiative that seeks to continuously gather information about oceans, coastal waters and Great Lakes.

"Oceans are vital to all of life on earth. A billion people a day depend on seafood for their primary or sole source of protein, oceans drive the climate system, oceans provide most of the oxygen that we breathe," Lubchenco told the AP.  

"They provide wonderful places for recreation, they are an important source of jobs, livelihoods. Just within the U.S., half of Americans live in coastal areas and 60 percent of gross domestic product comes from coastal areas, so clearly they are an integral part of our very fabric. Yet we know precious little about them," she added.

"We're constructing a vast, three dimensional jigsaw puzzle."

"We have bits and pieces of the puzzle and we're building out from that. So every track that this glider makes, every new sensor that we have in the oceans" adds data to create a more complete picture of the world, she said.

"We have only just begun to tap the potential that is here on planet ocean."


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