Someday this week, if all goes as planned, a robot submarine named Amelia will be launched off the Eastern Shore.
It will cruise to the edge of the Gulf Stream and back as part of Gliderpalooza 2013, a coordinated effort between scientists at 11 organizations in two countries to study the Atlantic coastline with unmanned, underwater gliders.
Amelia will be launched by Donglai Gong, an assistant professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point. “A bunch of scientists decided to put our resources together and demonstrate what a fleet of these vehicles covering the whole East Coast can do,” Gong said.
The glider will stay out two to three weeks, depending on currents, and travel about 250 miles round trip. Periodically, it will transmit readings of water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and more.
Gliderpalooza is an unprecedented mass deployment of sensors in the ocean, Gong said. “We’re hoping to get answers to questions we have not been able to solve.”
Rutgers University in New Jersey is coordinating the event. Participants range from Dalhousie University in Canada to the University of Georgia. In addition to gliders, data will be gathered from satellites, buoys, drifters and other types of sensors, and used to study everything from animal migration to hurricanes.
Each institution has its own mission goals, and Gong’s focus is the slope sea, the area of ocean where the continental shelf drops off and the water gets suddenly deeper. “The slope sea is very understudied, and it’s a highly interactive area,” Gong said, noting that warm tropical water meets cold polar water there.
The VIMS glider will launch from a boat a few miles off Wachapreague.
Gliderpalooza 2013 runs from September into November. Gong asked readers of his Facebook page to vote on names for the two gliders used by his lab, and the winning names were Amelia and Sylvia, he said: “After Amelia Earhart and Sylvia Earle, two famous female explorers of the air and the sea.”
If all goes well in Gliderpalooza, Amelia’s fate will be far different from that of her namesake. In 1937, Amelia Earhart was lost at sea.