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Saildrones. (Photo: NOAA)

Saildrones help to study West Coast fisheries

  (UNITED STATES, 6/30/2018)

The first batch of 11 unmanned sailing vehicles is to be launched this week as part of a programme expanding use of the cutting-edge technology to advance fisheries, weather and climate science.

The project is a joint effort of NOAA and the firm Saildrone, Inc., whose partnership started in 2014.

“This partnership is putting some of the most important new marine technology to work for the West Coast,” said Toby Garfield, Acting Deputy Director of NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, and part of the team directing the fifth Saildrone.

“The more complete and accurate data we have, the better decisions our fisheries managers can make in real terms of catch levels and seasons,” Garfield stressed.

Each year, Saildrone Inc. refines these vehicles for data collection with NOAA scientists who have helped integrate 18 sensors into the drone. These sensors are capable of collecting measurements such as air and water temperature, wave height, salinity, carbon dioxide concentration, fish abundance and the presence of marine mammals.

“The saildrone is an amazing device and provides us with an array of information, in some cases information that hasn't been readily available,” said Jessica Cross, NOAA oceanographer who is using the saildrone to study how the Arctic Ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide and becoming more acidic.

“Last summer, two saildrones journeyed north through the Bering Strait for the first time. We’re headed back to the Arctic this summer to learn more about rapid environmental changes occurring here,” Cross pointed out.

Three missions are taking place this year:

  1. Gain a better understanding of West Coast fisheries: fish acoustic surveys using saildrones in waters from Vancouver Island, Canada, to San Diego, California. NOAA Fisheries will launch five saildrones to gather essential data on fish populations, including sardines, anchovies and hake, one of the most valuable fisheries on the West Coast.
  2. Monitor change in the Arctic: four saildrones will leave from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for the Chukchi Sea to study the effects of ocean acidification on marine species as well as the distribution of Arctic cod. Arctic cod is a major food for seabirds, ringed seals, narwhals, belugas and other fish.
  3. Track weather in the tropical Pacific: two saildrones will glide 2,000 miles to the tropical Pacific Ocean in September to survey ocean and atmospheric data, including changes in ocean temperature and ocean carbon dioxide concentrations.

 The launch of saildrones along the West Coast demonstrates NOAA Fisheries’ continued commitment to embrace new technologies to maximize efficiencies and advance its mission.


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