Using glider AUV technology, researchers at Rutgers University hope to be the first scientists to successfully navigate an AUV across the entire Atlantic Ocean over the course of seven months. Ari Daniel Shapiro reports on the project in an excellent Spectrum podcast, explaining the technology behind the glider and what the goals of the mission are.
Gliders use low-power variable buoyancy systems to glide up and down through the water column for months at a time and carry payloads of different kinds of sensors to collect oceanographic data. These are primarily water quality sensors -- salinity, temperature, optical quality, and so on. During the mission, the glider will occasionally surface to send and receive information via the Iridium satellite network, and will allow its "drivers" to redirect it if necessary. While it is incredibly energy efficient, it's also slow and likely to drift, making it hard to hit particular distance targets during a mission. In the podcast, Shapiro mentions the importance of keeping the glider navigating through the eastbound Gulf Stream current to provide the glider with a little extra "oomph" and allow it to travel a greater distance over its lifetime.
The Rutgers team with their glider, built by Webb Research. Photo courtesy of RU COOL's RU-27 Flickr photostream
The Rutger's lab's first attempt, glider RU-17, failed off the coast of the Azores. While disappointing, it was a valuable way for them to learn about the difficult task of controlling a glider over such a great distance. Their second glider, named RU-27 (nicknamed Scarlet Knight), will take advantage of these lessons learned and hopefully succeed. Since its launch on 29 April it has already covered more than two thousand kilometers.
You can follow the glider's path here and check out the mission blog. Anyone interested in the ocean science going on should also check out the Scientist's Blog that discusses the data coming back from the glider.