Underwater drone measures ocean carbon levels

Researchers use a submarine drone to measure carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the ocean. It is believed to be the first time such a vehicle has been used specifically to test CO2 levels.

The vehicle, which the team also calls a glideris designed to dive up to 1,000 meters in deep ocean areas and can operate for weeks at a time.

The goal of the research is to provide scientists with data on how climate change is affecting ocean chemistry. The autonomous drone was deployed to the Gulf of Alaska this spring. Associated Press reporters recently joined researchers on a boat in Alaska’s Resurrection Bay to see the drone in action.

The team says the project could be a major step forward in measuring the environmental health of the oceans. Scientists are primarily interested in levels of ocean acidification. This occurs when CO2 emissions in the atmosphere make their way into the ocean. Ocean acidification can harm or kill certain types of marine life.

This May 4, 2022, photo shows an underwater glider dancing in the Gulf of Alaska. The glider was equipped with special sensors to study ocean acidification. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Scientists have established a link between CO2 emissions and global warming caused by human activities.

In a way, the oceans have done humans a great service by absorbing some of the CO2. If this were not the case, there would be a lot more CO2 in the atmosphere. This would trap more heat from the sun and warm the Earth more.

“But the problem now is that the ocean is changing its chemistry because of it. absorption», declared Claudine Hauri, member of the team. She is an oceanographer at the International Center for Arctic Research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

One of the best ways to measure ocean acidification is to collect CO2 measurements. Until now, these collections were mainly done from ships or with floating devices on the surface of the ocean or equipment on the bottom of the ocean.

Hauri is working with another researcher, Andrew McDonnell, on the project. He is an oceanographer in the University’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

This April 28, 2022, photo provided by Ehsan Abdi shows the University of Alaska Fairbanks research vessel Nanuq in the Gulf of Alaska.  (Ehsan Abdi via AP)

This April 28, 2022, photo provided by Ehsan Abdi shows the University of Alaska Fairbanks research vessel Nanuq in the Gulf of Alaska. (Ehsan Abdi via AP)

The two – who are married – have teamed up in recent months with engineers from Cyprus Subsea Consulting and Services, which supplied the drone. A German company, 4H-Jena, supplied the CO2 sensor. The team repeatedly took the drone further and further into Resurrection Bay from the coastal community of Seward to perform the tests.

The researchers said the drone’s sensor looked like a very small laboratory. It examines CO2 data and stores it in a temperature-controlled system.

Richard Feely is a scientist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He is based at the agency’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington.

This April 28, 2022, photo provided by Andrew McDonnell shows an underwater glider in the Gulf of Alaska.  (Andrew McDonnell via AP)

This April 28, 2022, photo provided by Andrew McDonnell shows an underwater glider in the Gulf of Alaska. (Andrew McDonnell via AP)

Feely said the goal of the project is to make the measurements collected by the glider just as exact such as those carried out on ships.

Researchers in Canada also tested a smaller CO2 measuring device attached to a drone. But this sensor has yet to achieve effective goals for observations of ocean acidification.

McDonnell said his goal is to one day have large numbers of similar robotic gliders operating in oceans around the world. Such efforts will be important in helping scientists “understand what is happening in the ocean better than before”, he said.

I am Brian Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story, based on reports from the University of Utah Health, Nature Chemical Biology and NOAA.

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words in this story

drone – nm an autonomous vehicle

glider – nm an airplane that has no engine and flies on air currents

emission – nm action of letting go of something

global warming – nm the increase in temperatures in the world due to pollution

absorption – nm the absorption of a substance

exact – nm correct or true

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