3000 Ocean Robots and Counting

Current Argo Deployment Status

Source: ucsd.edu

An international partnership dedicated to “Establish partnerships and reduce at-sea research” released its 3000th robot into the ocean today. The Argo project – the same mythical name of the ship Jason sailed in search of the Golden Fleece – was founded in 1998, began releasing ocean-bound robots in 2000, and now receives funding and support from more than 30 nations and the EU.

The underlying concept behind the Argo program is a basic one: use robots to do the work humans cannot. Annually sending 1000’s of ships around the world for scientific research would cost a bundle. Furthermore, no one wants to spend any more time then absolutely required traversing the roaring 40’s of the southern hemisphere – thus, Argos provide a means of sampling areas that are traditionally poorly monitored (like the Arctic and Southern oceans).

By pumping fluid into external bladders to control their buoyancy, current Argo models drop down to 2000m depth and measure the salinity and temperature of the ambient sea water. Every 10 days, it floats back to the surface and relays the collected information to satellites. This information is then available to any scientist who wants it – within hours of receiving it.

The objectives of the Argo program:

  • It will provide a quantitative description of the changing state of the upper ocean and the patterns of ocean climate variability from months to decades, including heat and freshwater storage and transport.
  • The data will enhance the value of the Jason altimeter through measurement of subsurface temperature, salinity, and velocity, with sufficient coverage and resolution to permit interpretation of altimetric sea surface height variability.
  • Argo data will be used for initializing ocean and coupled ocean-atmosphere forecast models, for data assimilation and for model testing.
  • A primary focus of Argo is to document seasonal to decadal climate variability and to aid our understanding of its predictability. A wide range of applications for high-quality global ocean analyses is anticipated

Source: ucsd.edu

Canada has released more than 90 Argo’s, and I was fortunate to help release one last year (i.e. I held it while the GOC scientist ran back to the dry lab grab his radio) in the Gulf of Alaska. Although ocean robots sound cool (whenever I imagine robots, inevitably my mind wonders to either the Jetson’s maid or a chimera of every saturday morning cartoon robot I watched growing up), they really look like either a long yellow torpedo, or a giant ocean-bound syringe. You decide:

I love when reality mirrors science fiction. Little did anyone know – there are thousands of robots circulating the global ocean. Is anyone aware of other such global monitoring programs?

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: davidsemeniuk.com