Robot probe testing offshore waters

July 11, 2012 - via Asbury Park Press

A Rutgers University undersea glider, with its wings yet to be attached, is prepared for an April 2009 mission. asbury park press file photo

A robotic sea-sampling undersea probe was launched off Sandy Hook Tuesday — the second in a series of missions to help the state Department of Environmental Protection better understand shifts in summertime water quality.

Despite its somewhat alarming resemblance to an anti-ship missile, the autonomous underwater vehicle is a slow mover, gently gliding on its wings through the depths. It takes rapid measures of temperature, dissolved oxygen that fish use to breathe and other conditions.

The two-week mission, on a weaving course four to seven miles offshore, will help “determine to what extent conditions such as natural upwelling events and lack of mixing of oxygen-poor and oxygen-rich waters are contributing to low-oxygen conditions,” said Jill Lipoti of the DEP’s Division of Water Monitoring and Standards in a prepared statement announcing the launch.

The machine is one of a family called Slocum electric gliders, named for Joshua Slocum, the American sailor who in the late 19th century was the first person to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly.

A Rutgers University team made history in 2009 when one of their gliders completed a first trans-Atlantic voyage and was brought ashore in Spain where Christopher Columbus launched his voyage in 1492.

The DEP’s glider is intended to help scientists better understand dynamics of oxygen levels and temperature in the ocean during summer. A probe last year detected significant stratification — layering of ocean water into bands with sharply different conditions — while data this summer show much more mixing is going on, DEP officials say.

The glider periodically pops up to stream its data via a satellite link. This information is much more “real-time” than traditional sea sampling that requires sending people out on ships to manually take bottled samples, when weather permits, according to the DEP.

The glider study follows up a recent Rutgers report that found life on the sea floor is generally healthy off New Jersey, despite persistent low-oxygen readings that led the government to declare the waters impaired. “This determination is based on old scientific techniques that had significant limitations,” Lipoti said.

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Author:Kirk Moore