September 5th, 2016 (Shivali). Two self-sailing ships have been travelling across the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska.
The boats are operated by Saildrone, a company that is creating robotic sailboats that can travel without sailors for up to eight months.
These autonomous vessels can collect details on water temperature, salinity and ecosystem information that would be difficult and expensive to collect by person.
The Saildrone boats have been used by scientists and engineers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to collect valuable information about the Alaskan coast.
The boats look like miniature yachts, with carbon-fibre sails and a distinctive orange design.
Operating by solar and wind power, the vessels can carry 200 pounds of instruments.
They are controlled through communications satellites from an operations centre, meaning no on-board sailors are needed.
In June, two boats were deployed carrying acoustic equipment that can pick up the sounds of North Pacific right whales, one on the most endangered animals on the planet.
Doug DeMaster, science director at the Alaska Fisheries Science Centre, said: ‘The Saildrone should provide us a much more efficient, cost effective way to at least try to identify areas and times of year where we’re hearing right whales, and then we could reliably design surveys to take advantage of that information.’
As well as counting whales, the boats could be used for weather prediction, oil and gas industry operations, or even to police illegal fishing.
In the future, they could also provide a quick way to collect and study the effects of global warming on the world’s oceans.
Chamath Palihapitaya, founder of Social Capital who is helping fund Saildrone, told the New York Times : ‘My interest in Saildrone is very practical.
‘Let’s stop arguing about what is happening, and let’s measure.
‘Once you have data and it’s statistically significant and valid, then we can get to the next step, which is to find what the structural reforms are that need to happen.’
Saildrone’s developer, Richard Jenkins, has found willing clients in ocean scientists and engineers who have already begun to use the boats to enhance their study of the El Niño warm-water pattern in the Pacific Ocean.
Unlike static buoys which are normally used to take readings, the boats can move, allowing researchers to change their collection patterns in response to ocean conditions.
Christopher Sabine, director of Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, said: ‘A self-correcting model is really a superpowerful way of doing things.
‘For climate modeling we need to know what’s going on year-round, and to be perfectly frank, we don’t like to go out into the middle of winter.’
So far, the longest mission has been eight months and 10,000 miles.
Mr Jenkins said : ‘We haven’t seen a threshold or limit to how long it can stay out there,’ he said. ‘I think the limit is going to be marine growth, rather than fatigue or failure. You just can’t stop the weed growing on the vehicle.’
The boats come at a price, and scientists, commercial fisherman and weather predictors pay a $2,500 (£1,875) a day fee per boat for the data they produce.
Ed Sibylline : what might appear a revolution for ocean is another “disturbing” device for marine life. This device is equipped with an acoustic trawl Simrad EK80, broadband data from 25-170 kHz) and an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) 150 kHz phase array.