Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hi-Tech Kon-Tiki of Research Underwater Glider Tests Ocean Currents Via Remote Control

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hi-Tech Kon-Tiki of Research Underwater Glider Tests Ocean Currents Via Remote Control

Article excerpt

Scientists have probed the oceans for decades by towing instruments from the back of research ships or by tossing them overboard and picking them up weeks or months later.

But a new "smart" device promises remote-control measurement of the world's oceans: a self-propelled glider that sails across the ocean using underwater currents and its own changing buoyancy for propulsion.

In fact, its creators eventually hope to send it from San Diego to Hawaii all by itself.

The Spray, a six-foot-long device resembling a cruise missile, is designed for long-distance, long-term reconnaissance of underwater conditions: temperature, depth, salinity, and chemical signatures that give scientists clues about the makeup of the marine world.

The Spray is one of a new class of ocean instruments known as autonomous underwater vehicles. These AUVs follow a prescribed pattern in the sea and then return to a set pickup point. They are particularly useful in measuring the properties of ocean currents, coastal areas, or ocean dump sites. They operate for several hours on battery power, then report their position to ship or shore through the satellite relays and the global positioning system (GPS).

What's different is that the Spray doesn't have a motor and so it isn't forced to return when its batteries run down.

"It can navigate like a commercial airliner," says Jim Dufour, an ocean engineer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., who developed the Spray along with colleagues at the Woods Hole Institution of Oceanography in Woods Hole, Mass. "It knows where it is, where it's going to go, and it keeps track of all of its motion."

The Spray moves through the water like a true glider. By rolling a set of weights forward, the nose of the Spray begins to sink. Two- foot wings and a rudder direct it forward through the water. It also uses a gyroscope and accelerometer much like an airplane's and makes simple turns by shifting weights from side to side. …

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