Georgia robot in fleet of ocean research machines

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SAVANNAH, Ga. — A small fleet of underwater robots, including one from the University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute, is swimming off the East Coast this fall, collecting data that could shed light on scientific puzzles ranging from hurricane intensity forecasts to fish migration patterns.

Researchers have dubbed it GliderPalooza.

“You can tell the people involved are a certain age range,” said Skidaway researcher Catherine Edwards, who launched her bright yellow glider Modena on Tuesday about 40 miles offshore.

Hers is the southernmost glider in the collaboration that spans from Nova Scotia to Georgia.

Modena, which Edwards calls a “glider with a Southern accent,” is newly outfitted with a device on loan from the Ocean Tracking Network that picks up signals from any tagged fish and marine mammals that come within about a mile of it.

That’s a boon to researchers at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary who implanted acoustic tags in 63 snapper and grouper fish as part of a long-term study of the animals’ movements. Until now, the researchers had to rely on stationary receivers they deployed at Gray’s Reef to get an idea of how the fish use the sanctuary.

Modena will be traveling outside the sanctuary in a triangular route, guided by computerized assistance from the Skidaway/Georgia Tech glider team that optimizes her movements by predicting ocean currents and making adjustments accordingly.

Modena and the other gliders will transmit real-time information about water temperature, salinity and density, dissolved oxygen, phytoplankton, colored dissolved organic matter and particulate matter in the water.

The robots can cheaply collect data that previously needed expensive research ships to collect. Gliders cost hundreds of dollars a day to support while the R.V. Savannah from which Modena was deployed, costs $11,000 a day to run.

“We hope to get a lot of visibility about what gliders can provide,” she said.


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