Robots in the ocean

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Autonomous and Lagrangian Platforms and Sensors (ALPS) workshop at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. ALPS are a class of oceanographic technology that can track biological, physical, and chemical properties in the ocean. ALPS platforms are also autonomous which means they collect data independently (without humans!) Now, researchers don’t have to spend months out at sea collecting data because most ALPS platforms will send information home periodically via satellites.

The pier at Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Ocean drifters, gliders, and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV’s) are a few examples of ALPS being used in Alaska. Each platform houses a set of sensors to monitor ocean currents, temperature, salinity, and other ocean conditions. Scientists are now experimenting with using gliders to locate populations of fish and marine mammals. Check out an amazing video from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institude that describes an ALPS programmed to follow a great white shark and video some of their behaviours deep underwater for the first time: HERE  (this video also demonstrates why AUVs need to be fairly durable!!). While some have video cameras, other types of gliders are outfitted with acoustic receiver to detect vocalizations such as grunting sounds or predatory calls.

ALPS tracking sharks….or sharks tracking ALPS!

The data collected from ALPS devices will allow scientists to design models of climate and weather patterns, such as El Niño and hurricanes. Additionally, these devices can help predict where pollutants, like oil or sewage, will go if they are dumped or accidentally spilled into the ocean. This information creates a more complete picture of what is happening in the ocean.

Written by: Dr. Casey Brown

Photo Credits: 
1) Glider–
2) Shark–


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