Research drones glide through our waters
SILENTLY snaking their way underwater, two ocean profiling research gliders sneaked down the Zululand coast late last year to gather valuable scientific information.
A part of the GINA (Gliders in the Agulhas) initiative, the ‘submerged drones’ travelled southwards between the surface and to depths of up to one kilometre.
These autonomous robotic platforms, which are costeffective and easy to deploy, used two-way communications to relay data back to the shore in real time.
‘Flying’ in the exceptionally fast-flowing Agulhas current, the gliders at times travelled distances of more than 100km per day.
Following their two-month journey from 60km north of Richards Bay to
Port Elizabeth, the gliders were recovered in October and planning is in progress for new deployments in late February this year
The observations collected from the gliders’ on-board sensors will help scientists better understand the impact of ocean currents off South Africa’s east coast on the transport of mass, heat, salt, biogeochemical variables and plankton.
‘While gliders have been successfully operated in the Southern Ocean region since 2012, no sustained glider observations programme has been established around the South African coastline despite the economic and biological importance of these coastal and shelf regions,’ said researcher Dr Marjolaine Krug of the Natural Resources and Environment unit of the CSIR.
‘GINA is our first step towards a sustained glider observations network around South Africa’s coastline which will complement and enhance existing observing networks.
‘The glider observations collected this year are a direct contribution to the ACEP CAPTOR Project (Connectivity And disPersal beTween prOtected aReas) which aims to investigate the importance of marine protected areas for the preservation of the marine ecosystem and to assist in fisheries management.,’
Craig Larvis (STS) and Siseko Benya (SAIAB) on board the research vessel Phakisa before the deployment of a Web Teledyne Slocum glider
Map of sea surface temperature on September 2018. Overlaid are the paths followed by the gliders deployed between September and November 2018. The black lines on the map show the location of the 200m, 1000m and 3000m depth contours.