Saildrones will aide NOAA research this summer

Federal fisheries scientists say they will launch unmanned ocean vehicles, called Saildrones, over the next four months from the Arctic to the tropical Pacific Ocean to learn more about how changes in the ocean are impacting fisheries and marine life.

The wind and solar-powered research vehicles, which resemble sailboats, will be traveling thousands of miles across the ocean, reaching some areas never before surveyed with such specialized technology, NOAA Fisheries said July 11.

In mid-July, Scientists plan to send off the first unmanned sailing vehicles from Dutch Harbor, with two sailing north through the Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean and another transiting the Bering Sea.  Traversing Alaska’s inhospitable waters, the Saildrones will track melting ice, measure the ocean’s levels of carbon dioxide and count fish, seals and whales to better understand their behavior and populations, NOAA said.

The Saildrones will be traveling through the Bering Strait into the Arctic with a newly adapted system to measure carbon dioxide concentrations, to help NOAA understand how changes in the Arctic may affect large-scale climate and weather systems, as well as ecosystems supporting valuable fish stocks.

Jessica Cross, an oceanographer at NOAA Research’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, is using the unmanned system now to study how the Arctic Ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide.

A third unmanned vehicle is to survey more than 3,100 nautical miles in the Bering Sea for walleye Pollock, Northern fur seals that prey on them, and the elusive North Pacific right whale. This research will build on research conducted in 2016, including a study of fur seal feeding rates.

Then in September scientists plan to launch two more unmanned systems from Alameda, CA, on a six-month , 8,000 nautical mile round trip mission to the equator and back to improve the Tropical Pacific Observing System.