In remote areas of the Bering Sea difficult to navigate with full sized research ships, scientists are relying this summer on the success of small, unmanned vessels to collect data on ocean conditions, sea mammals and fish.
This is the second summer of such exploration for the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle using Saildrones, developed by Saildrone Inc., in partnership with Saildrone, researchers from the University of Washington and others. Two Saildrones were deployed this past week at Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
And plans are already in the works for more missions over the next few years, says Noah Lawrence-Slavas, an engineer with PMEL.
“Over the last 18 months, we integrated scientific sensors, proved that we could make high quality observations from the vehicles and proved that the vehicles could survive for extended deployments,” he said.
The Saildrones, wind surfer styled vessels, are happiest in 15-knot winds, where they have an average speed of 3-4 knots. In extreme conditions, dead calm and powerful storms, they will have trouble maintaining their routes, so researchers guiding the Saildrones will consider the current and predicted conditions before commanding them with their computers to specific areas.
This year’s focus includes locating and gathering acoustic data on marine mammals, including Pacific right whales. Researchers will also be testing an acoustic device that emits sound waves underwater to collect information on remote spawning areas for walleye Pollock, and for prey surveys within the foraging range of declining populations of northern fur seals.