Mote team preparing to launch a glider (Credit: N. Slimak)

Mote team preparing to launch a glider (Credit: N. Slimak)

Mote Marine Laboratory Glider Operations in the Gulf of Mexico

The third story of this multi-part feature on gliders in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) shifts from industry to research institution glider operations. Mote Marine Laboratory (Mote) is a GCOOS partner and instrumental in advancing marine and coastal research and education in the state of Florida. Mote was founded in 1955 as an independent marine research institution and has distinguished itself through the seamless integration of its research enterprise with education, public outreach and public policy programs. Major research programs include anthropogenic impacts, seawater aquaculture, marine biomedicals, marine microbiology, harmful algal blooms, marine stock enhancement, ocean acidification, phytoplankton ecology, and marine mammal conservation and research. Gliders are a part of the MML ocean technology research fleet and are currently being operated to study harmful algal blooms. This article details the start of Mote glider operations and the current and future glider activities conducted by the Mote Ocean Technology Program.

In 2006, Mote partnered with Rutgers University to establish the Southern Operations Coastal Ocean Observing Laboratory (SO-COOL). The emphasis for this partnership was and is focused on the early detection of harmful algal blooms, specifically Karenia brevis or red tide, using autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). The AUVs, or gliders, are equipped with a unique instrument – an Optical Phytoplankton Discriminator (OPD), also known as a “BreveBuster.”  The OPD on the Slocum gliders was designed at Mote Marine Laboratory and identifies the presence of Karenia brevis and other phytoplankton species using a species-specific Similarity Index (SIM Index). In addition to deploying OPDs on AUVs, Mote scientists also deploy OPDs on fixed platforms for continuous real-time data reporting of Florida coastal waters.  Work with the gliders and OPDs is conducted by the Ocean Technology Program at Mote, a group originally started by Dr. Gary Kirkpatrick. Dr. Kirkpatrick’s unique background in engineering and marine science was instrumental in the marriage of biology and ocean technology, and the development of a functioning ocean observing program at Mote. Dr. L. Kellie Dixon now leads the Mote Ocean Technology Program with support from members Robert D. Currier, Alan R. Hails, Justin A. S. Shapiro, Dr. Karl C. Henderson, Jim R. Hillier, and a number of volunteers.

Mote BreveBuster (Credit: N. Slimak)

Mote Optical Phytoplankton Discriminator (OPD), also referred to as the BreveBuster (Credit: N. Slimak)

Mote glider missions have been conducted since 2007. Earlier missions consisted of deployments lasting a few days to weeks and glider trajectories were determined by responding to bloom events to map reported or probable blooms of Karenia brevis. In 2010, NOAA supported deployments by Mote, as an U.S. IOOS member, to fly gliders during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in collaboration with the University of South Florida (USF). These and other joint deployments also allowed Mote and USF to test existing data systems and data management protocols that will support multiple and concurrent in-water assets. Today, Mote is working on conducting monthly monitoring of Florida waters, as well as being operationally ready to conduct event response activities. Responses to bloom events use gliders to provide delineation and mapping of the bloom in conjunction with Mote and State of Florida agencies in situ sampling.

Deployments are primarily off the southwest Florida coast, from near Tampa to the Keys. The present monthly monitoring transect extends to the 40-meter isobath offshore from Sarasota and Charlotte Harbor. Bloom event response activities with the gliders depend on the bloom’s location as determined by Mote and other agencies. This type of monitoring with gliders provides an economical sampling program with benefits beyond shipboard monitoring and satellite-derived data by providing high-resolution spatial data and near-continuous water column profiles during all weather conditions. Physical and phytoplankton species SIM Index data collected by the gliders is transferred back to Mote Marine Laboratory in near real-time. Accessibility of near real-time data from gliders provides early warning of blooms and allows scientists to map blooms and water quality conditions where Karenia brevis accumulates in high-resolution

Mote BreveBuster glider track off the coast of Florida (Credit: MML)

Mote BreveBuster glider track off the coast of Florida (Credit: MML)

The data collected from the gliders also serves both monitoring, management agencies, and the public. Users of the data include managers tasked with protecting health and wildlife resources, physical and ecological modelers predicting transport, bloom progression and forecasting, and scientists trying to plan in situ on-site field experiments. The data are also used to provide confirmation of satellite-derived “flags” of potential blooms, as well as useful for investigating subsurface accumulations of Karenia brevis. Subsets of the data are publically available through the resources provided by GCOOS and other ocean observing data streams (http://coolcloud.mote.org/socool_beta/). Future data sharing and utilization by Mote Marine Laboratory Education Division include providing additional computer resources and integrating the SO-COOL resources and data streams into curriculum for middle and high school age groups in 2014. Collaborators working with Mote Marine Laboratory on SO-COOL data sharing and products include GCOOS, Dr. Alina Corcoran (http://MyFWC.com/RedTide/), Dr. Rick Stumpf (http://coastalscience.noaa.gov/research/habs/), and Chad Lembke (http://cotprojects.marine.usf.edu/data/gliders.html).

Mote Marine Laboratory’s glider activities are designed to provide managers with key ecological information, to construct a long-term dataset for multiple users, and to provide a base program to enhance participation with the GCOOS Gulf Glider Task Team. More so, Mote Marine Laboratory scientists are working with federal, regional, and state partners on the Glider Implementation Plan for Hypoxia Monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico (http://www.ncddc.noaa.gov/activities/healthy-oceans/gulf-hypoxia-stakeholders/workshop-2013/proceedings/index.html) and to continue participation with GCOOS and the Integrated Ocean Observing System (U.S. IOOS) as a national glider network continues to build. As the formatting of data products and data management is addressed at the national level, the Mote Ocean Technology group will move forward with adopting additional standardized formatting and quality assurance techniques set forth by U.S. IOOS. Future plans for Mote Marine Laboratory glider operations include the continuation of monthly monitoring transects in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the participation and coordination with other Gulf glider teams and assets.

To follow future Mote glider activities and to learn more about additional research activities at Mote, please visit www.mote.org. And stay tuned early next year for GCOOS Gulf Glider Showcase Part 4 – Federal & Industry Glider Collaborations!

MML glider being prepped before launching (Credit: N. Slimak)

MML glider being prepped before launching (Credit: N. Slimak)

Mote glider heading out for a mission (Credit: MML)

Mote glider heading out for a mission (Credit: MML)

Alan Hails (MML) with the BreveBuster glider (Credit: N. Slimak)

Alan Hails (MML) with the BreveBuster glider (Credit: N. Slimak)