How Australian Scientists Are Monitoring Our Oceans With Drones

How Australian Scientists Are Monitoring Our Oceans With Drones
Image: CSIRO

Saildrones are solar and wind powered state-of-the-art unmanned ocean monitoring vehicles, durable enough to spend a year at sea. Based in San Francisco, the start-up making the drones just teamed up with the CSIRO in a move the organisation says will “radically improve” measurement and monitoring in Australian waters and the Southern ocean.

Saildrones can help in a wholle range of science missions – including conducting stock assessments, upload data from subsurface sensors or respond to marine emergencies. They are equipped with both automatic identification systems (AIS) and ship avoidance systems to alert and avoid other ocean users.

Because they can be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world, the Saildrones can be quickly moved from one task to another. This means the CSIRO has a new way to measure ocean conditions associated with special events – like marine heat waves, or toxic algal blooms – that in the past would have required extensive planning, and money for a ship and crew.

The research partnership between Saildrone and CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere group will also mean we can collect more information about sea-surface temperature and salinity. The CSIRO will equip the Saildrones with specialised sensors designed to measure ocean carbon.

CSIRO Research Group Leader Andreas Marouchos said the partnership would see the organisation manage a fleet of three Saildrones deployed from the CSIRO in Hobart.

“This research partnership comes at a critical time for the marine environment, and at a time when technological innovation in the marine sector is booming,” Marouchos said.

“Saildrones are long-range research platforms that can be sent to remote locations for an extended period of time, delivering real-time data back to scientists that was previously impossible to collect.”

Marouchos said the drones gather fundamental information about our oceans and climate using a powerhouse of ocean chemistry, meteorological and marine acoustic sensors.

“CSIRO is at the forefront of advances in marine engineering and technology, with a demonstrated track record in providing new tools and methods for world-class oceans research.”

Australian Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins said CSIRO provided a unique opportunity for marine research collaboration in the Southern Hemisphere.

“Saildrone and CSIRO share the same passion for innovation and engineering to help solve some of the most challenging problems facing the world,” Jenkins said.

“Autonomy is a key technology for accessing the southern oceans, which are understudied due to the rough seas and the limited number of vessels that regularly pass through the region.”