Wave Glider test deployment. Image courtesy of PMEL.


OER Funds Innovative Technology for Exploration of the Arctic Ocean

June 23, 2015

From July 8 to 21, an expedition on the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) vessel Healy—funded by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration Program, and led by PMEL and Cooperative Institute (University of Washtington/Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean and University of Alaska Fairbanks/Cooperative Institute for Alaska Research) scientists and engineers—will use cutting-edge technology to help scientists understand how the Arctic is changing and what the implications of those changes may be. 

A buoy that includes a new radiometer system will be used as a platform to test two innovative technologies: a new-generation Prawler and a Lab-On-a-Chip nitrate sensor (provided by the U.K.’S National Oceanography Centre). The Prawler makes oceanographic measurements as it crawls up and down the mooring line, sending this data back to PMEL in real time. The Lab-on-a-Chip is a prototype nitrate analyzer that conducts chemical measurements on a microplate—measurements that would otherwise require a shipboard laboratory.

The Wave Glider is an autonomous, robotic surface vessel with an average speed of 1-1.5 knots that is propelled by wave action, with energy for sensors and system command and control provided by solar panels. The vehicles are controlled via RF and satellite and are programmed to run track lines between waypoints. Two Wave Gliders will be deployed: a Carbon Wave Glider will examine variables that contribute to air–sea exchange of carbon dioxide in the arctic, and an Ecosystem Wave Glider will examine seasonal changes in upper water heat and salt, as well as ecosystem response to these changes.

During the cruise, two prototype under-ice pop-up floats will also be tested. These novel sensors sit on the bottom for a set period of time (days–months) before being released under the ice. During ascent they provide a profile of oceanographic conditions in the water column, and then continue to make measurements while under the ice. Once clear of the ice, the sensors will transmit data back to PMEL. The concept is to develop an inexpensive data collection tool that can be deployed in the fall and acquire under-ice measurements in winter and early spring. 

This project leverages a USCG technology demonstration effort, “Arctic Shield,” which is providing the Healy ship time to NOAA at no cost. Arctic Shield project objectives are to demonstrate and evaluate new technologies that can improve Coast Guard mission performance in the Arctic.

NOAA participation was coordinated through the OER-led Ocean Observations Innovation Forum by identifying NOAA activities that could compliment USCG objectives, such as meteorology and ocean observations, environmental assessment, and technology demonstrations. The buoy and Wave Gliders will be recovered by another ship after two to three months of data collection activities. Measurements will be coordinated and cross-calibrated with NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown later in the summer as part of an EcoFOCI cruise.

Massive physical changes are underway in the Arctic Ocean, including a transition from multiyear to seasonal ice, reduced albedo (amount of solar radiation reflected from the Earth back into space), an increase in the extent of open water, and changes in the upper water column (increased irradiance, freshening, warming, and acidification). It remains unknown how these dramatic changes will impact the marine ecosystem (from microbes to whales) and native communities. Because of the rapid pace of change and the remote and harsh environment of the Arctic, it has proven difficult to obtain adequate information needed to assess ongoing changes in the ecosystem, especially in the technically challenging surface domain of the seasonal ice zone. 

The goal of this work is to discover the spatial and temporal variability of physical, chemical, and biological properties in the surface layers of Chukchi Sea after ice retreat, using advanced radiation and autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) technology. 

The work supports NOAA’s Climate Adaptation and Mitigation and Healthy Oceans goals. It also addresses the strategic goals of the NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research to conduct scientific baseline characterizations of unknown or poorly understood ocean processes and advance ocean exploration and research through innovative technologies.

This project is made possible through a large cooperative effort including NOAA/PMEL, NOAA/OER, U. S. Coast Guard, University of Washington/Joint Institute for the Study of the Ocean and Atmosphere, University of Alaska Fairbanks/Cooperative Institute for Alaska Research, National Oceanography Centre (UK), and Liquid Robotics.