GCOOS initially developed the Gulf AUV Network and Data Archive Long-term storage Facility (GANDALF) to host data streaming in from gliders operating in the Gulf of Mexico.

Vela's pathOur most recent missions this summer include capturing data gathered from Slocum gliders deployed by the Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG) at Texas A&M and Mote Marine Laboratory. GERG’s gliders are currently supplying info on water temperature, salinity, density, chlorophyll, CDOM and DO. Mote’s glider also has an acoustic receiver to detect tagged fish. Data collected by the gliders are automatically uploaded to GCOOS’ GANDALF server, where it is available for public use.

Bob Currier, GCOOS Senior Data Engineer, has also recently been working to include information on the site coming from drifters made by school kids and from Vela, a solar-powered sailboat drone developed by Navocean.

Vela and the scientific team

Photo courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory

About Vela

Vela was deployed for a few days in June for testing in conjunction with Mote’s glider, Genie. Mote normally deploys gliders in the Gulf to monitor harmful algae and Genie’s payload includes instruments that monitor the abundance of phytoplankton, including Karenia brevis, the toxic algae that causes red tide in the Gulf of Mexico. Data from Genie and gliders like her are hosted on GCOOS’ data portal.

Genie gathers data as it dives up and down underwater. Vela, on the other hand, moves more quickly across the surface and can access shallower waters than gliders.

Vela is a fourth generation prototype autonomous surface vehicle called a Nav2. It’s 6 feet long, 1.5 feet wide, draws 2.5 feet and weighs about 125 pounds. Sensors GPS position/course/speed, Airmar Met data (wind spd, dir, surface pressure), a Turner Designs Cyclops Integrator fluorometer, and a NBOSI (Neil Brown) CT sensor. It uses sails for primary propulsion and an electric motor thruster when there is not sufficient wind. It has solar panels to charge batteries for core system and sensor power requirements and communicates in near real-time using cellular networks when available or Iriduim SBD.

During the test, Vela surveyed a near-shore zigzag pattern to demonstrate its ability to map surface conditions, which could be useful for monitoring bloom conditions and movements. The Navocean drone is powered by a solar panel and propelled by a sail with a wind sensor.

Both technologies are designed to collect ocean data more frequently, for longer durations and at lower cost than people working on boats, while sending data to scientists’ computers via satellite. This helps alert scientists to changing ocean conditions in real time, also helping them schedule manned boat surveys to collect a wider variety of data and samples.

Fun fact: Vela is the Latin word for the sails of a ship and also the name of a constellation found in the southern sky. Vela the constellation was originally part of a larger constellation Argo Navis, which represented the Argo used by Jason and the Argonauts.

About Drifters

Drifter pathDrifters are buoys that transmit their locations and sea surface temperatures via satellite. Data are used to track major ocean currents and eddies globally, ground-truth data from satellites, build models of climate and weather patterns, predict the movement of pollutants if dumped or accidentally spilled into the sea and assist with the forecast path of approaching hurricanes. A single drifter lasts for an average of 400 days.

Scientists at the NOAA lab in Woods Hole, Mass., originally developed the idea of engineering and deploying low-cost, hand-built ocean drifters in 2003. Eventually, the program broadened its scope and began working with schools to build and deploy them. Students learn science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills during the projects and the ocean observing community gains more tools that allow them to track ocean conditions. Most of the drifters are deployed throughout New England, but there have been several deployments in the Gulf of Mexico.

When they were initially built, the drifters used a PVC frame and vinyl sails. Today, drifters are made with bamboo frames and cotton sails to make them more ecofriendly. They’re also being built to carry solar-powered RaspberryPis — low-cost, credit-card sized computers. (Watch students at one school build a drifter https://vimeo.com/129887124)

Currently, a drifter built by students at Florida’s Kathleen High School is being tracked on GANDALF.

A view of Glider activity in the Atlantic OceanA variety of government, foundation and corporate dollars support drifter programs in schools and NOAA can help new schools or groups begin their own drifter building programs. (Email James Manning at james.manning@noaa.gov for details and information.)

Fun fact: GCOOS member Dauphin Island Sea Lab worked with students at Daphne, Murphy and Auburn high schools to deploy the first student-made drifter in the Gulf of Mexico in 2012. The drifter deployment from Dauphin’s ship the Alabama Discovery included a distance technology link with students at a partner school in Vera Cruz, Mexico.