REMUS AND GLIDERS — Penguin Feeding Habitat Investigations in Antarctica

January 28, 2011 - via Studying Belgica at the Bottom of the World

There is some HIGH TECH science happening at Palmer Station. . .
Meet Ian (human), and REMUS (autonomous underwater vehicle.)  REMUS stands for Remote Environmental Monitoring Unit.  This self-propelling  instrument for sampling and imaging ocean water is shaped like a torpedo.  It was originally designed for mapping the ocean bottom, but has been transitioned to investigate the full water column.

Here’s the concept. . . The REMUS team works with the bird researchers.  The “Birders” put transmitters on Adelie penguins, taking care to get the satellite tags on and off the penquins quickly and safely.  These transmitters send signals to satellites that track where penguins are diving.

Once the team finds out where penguins are foraging (feeding), they program the REMUS vehicles to travel to the same location to collect water data, such as temperature, salinity, and chlorophyll content.  REMUS’ acoustic sensors also give the researchers a 3-D picture showing the concentration of krill (shrimp-like marine animals that are the primary food source of the Adelie penguin.)  After 5-8 hours, the vehicle returns close to Palmer Station where scientists pick up the instrument.

The REMUS Project is truly a team effort.  Technicians from CalPoly, University of Delaware, and Rutgers work on vehicle circuit boards and tune it up for its next underwater mission.

There are also researchers launching other types of autonomous underwater vehicles called Gliders from both Palmer Station and from the research ship, the L.M. Gould, along the Antarctic Peninsula.  The Gliders, unlike the REMUS, do not have a propeller, but instead move through the water by changing buoyancy, getting lighter and heavier in the water.  This up and down motion is translated to forward momentum by wings that are snapped into the side of the Glider.  There are currently 4 gliders deployed in Antarctica.

Because of its low power needs, the Glider can stay underwater for weeks at a time, “phoning” in data about penguin habitat to researchers in the U.S. via satellite connections.  That’s a mere 25,000 mile exchange each time it dials up headquarters.  (Yeesh!  Imagine THAT cell phone bill!)  Even though the scientists in Antarctica deploy these Gliders, engineers from Rutgers, New Jersey, are the ones that command and control their flight patterns via satellite.

When all the data for the summer season is compiled from the penguin tags, the REMUS and the Gliders, researchers will have a “big picture” of the food chain, (sunlight - phytoplankton – krill – penguins), diving behaviors of penguins, and how these relate to the breeding success and survival of penguins.

I had the opportunity to ride with the Glider Team as they released a glider into the water.  In our official orange float suits, we looked like a top-notch NASA team with “all the right stuff” as we motored off into Arthur Harbor to deliver our high-tech glider.

Certainly not as glamorous as digging up maggots with a spoon, but then — we can’t ALL be Buggers. . .
Didn’t I tell you there was COOL science going on at Palmer Station?

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Author:Pat Betteley