A Wave Glider is deployed into the Southern Ocean - a first for science and robotics engineering. This glider experiment lasted 4.5 months where both Seagliders and Wave Gliders were used to sample the spring to summer physics and gas fluxes in the Subantarctic region.

A Wave Glider is deployed into the Southern Ocean – a first for science and robotics engineering. This glider experiment lasted 4.5 months where both Seagliders and Wave Gliders were used to sample the spring to summer physics and gas fluxes in the Subantarctic region.

Table Mountain is wreathed in cloud, with a skirt of fog, and in the distance rolling clouds are moving in from the south. A team of scientists and engineers from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) stand in a large patch of sunlighton the dock at the V&A marina, hurrying to affix an ocean robot to the side of a small vessel with a winch, hauling it from the dock so it hugs the side of the boat.

They are heading out past the breakwater to deploy this wave glider, which will begin its month-long journey to the Southern Ocean, and they are racing against the oncoming storm.

These storms are part of the reason that the Southern Ocean is one of the most under-researched in the world, even though it absorbs almost half of the world’s man-made carbon emissions.

A report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, released earlier this year, says that the world is already experiencing climate change. “African ecosystems are already being impacted by climate change, and the future impacts are expected to be substantial,” it said.

Dr Isabelle Ansorge, with the University of Cape Town’s Marine Research Institute, said in 2012 that Southern Ocean research as critical: “It is the only ocean that is not surrounded by land but by other oceans … It’s almost like the lungs of the world’s water.”

“Globally, there is a renewed interest in understanding what is going on in the Southern Ocean from a climate perspective and how it mediates global climate,” says Dr Pedro Monteiro, principal oceanographer at the CSIR and head of the Southern Ocean Carbon & Climate Observatory programme. He stands on the dock with his hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched up to his beanie, braced against the chill wind.

While anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions — those created by humans — are well studied and account for about 10 gigatons, the natural carbon cycle is substantially larger at 100 gigatons and is less understood, he says.

“This is the first time we are deploying a carbon wave glider directly from the coast to head to the Southern Ocean without the use of a ship,” says Dr Seb Swart

The Glider looks like a thick yellow-topped, black-bellied boogie board that has sprouted antennas. There are actually two parts, although at the moment they are sandwiched together: the surface board and a subsystem that appears to comprise thick-slatted venetian blinds, which are connected via a seven-metre umbilical cord made of a rubber composite. When in the ocean, the movement between the two parts, caused by the waves, makes the glider move forward.
“We’re sending it to 43 degrees south, the same location in the sub-Antarctic that we deployed gliders last year,” Swart says, without taking his eyes off the winch that is now carrying more than R3-million worth of robotic equipment. “It’s an area in the sub-Antarctic zone where there is abundant phytoplankton growth phytoplankton absorb carbon dioxide, and thus is a key area for understanding the carbon cycle.”

The glider, fitted with GPS and a satellite communications system, will be driven down via remote control from Cape Town, whereas the first and second gliders – which took ocean measurements in the summers of 2012-13 and 2013-14 – were deployed by ships travelling down to Antarctica. “We are missing key data from the winter conditions and variability,” Swart says.

This is why ocean robots, Monteiro and Swart argue, are the next generation of climate observing platforms. “Ships only measure variables such as the ocean’s oxygen and carbon content, temperature, salinity, acidity where they are. They can cover large distances, but the length of time they can be there is limited,” Monteiro says.

Ships are also pricey. The SA Agulhas II, South Africa’s polar research vessel, costs about R300 000 a day to operate and can only take snapshots of ocean conditions along the way. Moorings with sensors are cheaper, but are stuck in one place and at the mercy of ocean currents.

Engineering interns, Sinekhaya Bilana and JP Smit work on sensors of the Wave Glider before deployment from the polar ship SA Agulhas II.

Engineering interns, Sinekhaya Bilana and JP Smit work on sensors of the Wave Glider before deployment from the polar ship SA Agulhas II.

As the glider-carrying vessel lurches past the breakwater on the Cape’s choppy seas, a multi-level icebreaker giant like the SA Agulhas II seems like a safer transport option. The aluminium boat is pitched at a precarious angle: the ocean glider hangs from a small winch on the starboard. Four of the team are holding the glider away from the boat, which rolls in the heaving jade-coloured water as sprays of white foam fly over the boat.

Monteiro shouts over the sounds of the vessel’s two engines: “It’s been a learning curve using ocean gliders, but these guys are some of the world’s best in ocean robotics.” He points to the four people clustered around the ocean glider while Sinekhaya Bilana, a Cape Peninsula University of Technology graduate who’s studies are now funded by the CSIR, attaches a weather station to the glider in preparation for deployment.

A stomach-churning journey past the breakwater ends as they lower it into water just after Sinekhaya has reattached the antenna, releasing the winch and pushing the glider away from the boat. They will hopefully see the glider again in late spring to summer, and the return to the waterfront is coloured with relief and big smiles.

These smiles evaporate when we reach the boat docks, and Monteiro gets a phone call: the ground-based team observing the deployment has not received a signal from the glider in the last 30 minutes. At the last communication, it was headed for a major shipping lane, and since the glider does not emit a radar signal, a huge freight ship could sail right over it. The laugh lines disappear from Monteiro’s face, and he walks quickly with a long-legged stride to wait for a car to take him back to the command centre at the Department of Environmental Affair’s office on the east pier.

Cape Point GAW station

This is the only GAW station in South Africa, measuring inter alia carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and nitrous oxide, which are greenhouse gases.

The station comprises a little stone cottage and a large metal tower on the rocky outcrop against which the cottage was built. The tower used to be a beacon for ships, says Brunke. It now has dishes and piping running down its legs. Air is sucked out of the atmosphere by the pipes and siphoned into the stone cottage, which has even more pipes running along the ceiling into the racks of equipment that fill the room. Here the chemistry of the fresh ocean air is analysed.

Meanwhile, on Cape Point at the air monitoring station next to the lighthouse, Ernst Brunke is measuring the quality of the ocean air. He has been at the Cape Point station for more than two decades; he was here when it was under the control of the CSIR, before the South African Weather Service took over management of the facility. It is home to one of the World Meteorological Organisation’s Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) outposts. “[We] monitor the chemistry of the ‘clean’ background atmosphere – not in cities, but in remote places, so we could paint a picture of how polluted the globe is,” Brunke says.

Brunke is the only person in the station today, although usually weather service employees go in twice a week. Many of the station’s projects – such as the GAW work – are collaborative, an important thing considering the station’s isolation which is reinforced by the howl of the sea wind and the long climb up the hill to the station. “We cannot work in isolation,” Brunke says, listing the station’s collaborators, which include local universities and science councils, such as the CSIR, as well as international partners, like the Max Plank Institute. One of its programmes with the CSIR is with Monteiro’s carbon programme, in which “we make long-term carbon dioxide measurements and provide collaboration facilities”. Both Monteiro and Brunke are also collaborating with CSIR systems ecologist Bob Scholes, whose research team is collecting environmental data in the Kruger National Park.

“It is important to put all the pieces together,” Brunke says. “Each one supplies a scientific block of information that should be gelled together … Pollution knows no boundaries. To understand the planet system, we must work with the big picture.”

A Wave Glider being retrieved

A Wave Glider is retrieved with a combined ship and small boat approach after spending numerous months sampling the Southerrn Ocean air-sea interface. These rare and valuable data are crucial to understanding the variability of the upper ocean currents and CO2 fluxes. Note the severe barnacle growth on thee underside of the glider’s surface float. Picture by Ken Findlay

For Monteiro, a picture on a computer screen has his undivided attention. “Put the glider on to a circle route and hold it in that position, or maybe we should drive it to the harbor entrance,” he says, and turns to pace. In the last 50 minutes, they have heard from the glider once, 10 minutes ago.

The storm on the horizon means that if they do not hear from the glider, and it has to hold its position, they will have to wait a week to retrieve it, and it might be too late to get it down to the Southern Ocean for winter.

Long minutes pass as the team stares at the screen. It is still in the shipping lane, but it is safe for the moment. Two minutes later: “ping”. Another long two minutes: “ping”. Engineer Andre Hook turns to Monteiro and says: “We’re getting hits every two minutes.” They set the glider’s course west, out of the shipping lane, and wait.

Reference

This article was written by Sarah Wild and published in the Mail and Guardian Newspaper:

http://mg.co.za/article/2014-06-12-robot-to-test-health-of-ocean-lungs

A Wave Glider is deployed into the Southern Ocean - a first for science and robotics engineering. This glider experiment lasted 4.5 months where both Seagliders and Wave Gliders were used to sample the spring to summer physics and gas fluxes in the Subantarctic region.

A Wave Glider is deployed into the Southern Ocean – a first for science and robotics engineering. This glider experiment lasted 4.5 months where both Seagliders and Wave Gliders were used to sample the spring to summer physics and gas fluxes in the Subantarctic region.

Table Mountain is wreathed in cloud, with a skirt of fog, and in the distance rolling clouds are moving in from the south. A team of scientists and engineers from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) stand in a large patch of sunlighton the dock at the V&A marina, hurrying to affix an ocean robot to the side of a small vessel with a winch, hauling it from the dock so it hugs the side of the boat.

They are heading out past the breakwater to deploy this wave glider, which will begin its month-long journey to the Southern Ocean, and they are racing against the oncoming storm.

These storms are part of the reason that the Southern Ocean is one of the most under-researched in the world, even though it absorbs almost half of the world’s man-made carbon emissions.

A report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, released earlier this year, says that the world is already experiencing climate change. “African ecosystems are already being impacted by climate change, and the future impacts are expected to be substantial,” it said.

Dr Isabelle Ansorge, with the University of Cape Town’s Marine Research Institute, said in 2012 that Southern Ocean research as critical: “It is the only ocean that is not surrounded by land but by other oceans … It’s almost like the lungs of the world’s water.”

“Globally, there is a renewed interest in understanding what is going on in the Southern Ocean from a climate perspective and how it mediates global climate,” says Dr Pedro Monteiro, principal oceanographer at the CSIR and head of the Southern Ocean Carbon & Climate Observatory programme. He stands on the dock with his hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched up to his beanie, braced against the chill wind.

While anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions — those created by humans — are well studied and account for about 10 gigatons, the natural carbon cycle is substantially larger at 100 gigatons and is less understood, he says.

“This is the first time we are deploying a carbon wave glider directly from the coast to head to the Southern Ocean without the use of a ship,” says Dr Seb Swart

The Glider looks like a thick yellow-topped, black-bellied boogie board that has sprouted antennas. There are actually two parts, although at the moment they are sandwiched together: the surface board and a subsystem that appears to comprise thick-slatted venetian blinds, which are connected via a seven-metre umbilical cord made of a rubber composite. When in the ocean, the movement between the two parts, caused by the waves, makes the glider move forward.
“We’re sending it to 43 degrees south, the same location in the sub-Antarctic that we deployed gliders last year,” Swart says, without taking his eyes off the winch that is now carrying more than R3-million worth of robotic equipment. “It’s an area in the sub-Antarctic zone where there is abundant phytoplankton growth phytoplankton absorb carbon dioxide, and thus is a key area for understanding the carbon cycle.”

The glider, fitted with GPS and a satellite communications system, will be driven down via remote control from Cape Town, whereas the first and second gliders – which took ocean measurements in the summers of 2012-13 and 2013-14 – were deployed by ships travelling down to Antarctica. “We are missing key data from the winter conditions and variability,” Swart says.

This is why ocean robots, Monteiro and Swart argue, are the next generation of climate observing platforms. “Ships only measure variables such as the ocean’s oxygen and carbon content, temperature, salinity, acidity where they are. They can cover large distances, but the length of time they can be there is limited,” Monteiro says.

Ships are also pricey. The SA Agulhas II, South Africa’s polar research vessel, costs about R300 000 a day to operate and can only take snapshots of ocean conditions along the way. Moorings with sensors are cheaper, but are stuck in one place and at the mercy of ocean currents.

Engineering interns, Sinekhaya Bilana and JP Smit work on sensors of the Wave Glider before deployment from the polar ship SA Agulhas II.

Engineering interns, Sinekhaya Bilana and JP Smit work on sensors of the Wave Glider before deployment from the polar ship SA Agulhas II.

As the glider-carrying vessel lurches past the breakwater on the Cape’s choppy seas, a multi-level icebreaker giant like the SA Agulhas II seems like a safer transport option. The aluminium boat is pitched at a precarious angle: the ocean glider hangs from a small winch on the starboard. Four of the team are holding the glider away from the boat, which rolls in the heaving jade-coloured water as sprays of white foam fly over the boat.

Monteiro shouts over the sounds of the vessel’s two engines: “It’s been a learning curve using ocean gliders, but these guys are some of the world’s best in ocean robotics.” He points to the four people clustered around the ocean glider while Sinekhaya Bilana, a Cape Peninsula University of Technology graduate who’s studies are now funded by the CSIR, attaches a weather station to the glider in preparation for deployment.

A stomach-churning journey past the breakwater ends as they lower it into water just after Sinekhaya has reattached the antenna, releasing the winch and pushing the glider away from the boat. They will hopefully see the glider again in late spring to summer, and the return to the waterfront is coloured with relief and big smiles.

These smiles evaporate when we reach the boat docks, and Monteiro gets a phone call: the ground-based team observing the deployment has not received a signal from the glider in the last 30 minutes. At the last communication, it was headed for a major shipping lane, and since the glider does not emit a radar signal, a huge freight ship could sail right over it. The laugh lines disappear from Monteiro’s face, and he walks quickly with a long-legged stride to wait for a car to take him back to the command centre at the Department of Environmental Affair’s office on the east pier.

Cape Point GAW station

This is the only GAW station in South Africa, measuring inter alia carbon dioxide, methane, ozone and nitrous oxide, which are greenhouse gases.

The station comprises a little stone cottage and a large metal tower on the rocky outcrop against which the cottage was built. The tower used to be a beacon for ships, says Brunke. It now has dishes and piping running down its legs. Air is sucked out of the atmosphere by the pipes and siphoned into the stone cottage, which has even more pipes running along the ceiling into the racks of equipment that fill the room. Here the chemistry of the fresh ocean air is analysed.

Meanwhile, on Cape Point at the air monitoring station next to the lighthouse, Ernst Brunke is measuring the quality of the ocean air. He has been at the Cape Point station for more than two decades; he was here when it was under the control of the CSIR, before the South African Weather Service took over management of the facility. It is home to one of the World Meteorological Organisation’s Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) outposts. “[We] monitor the chemistry of the ‘clean’ background atmosphere – not in cities, but in remote places, so we could paint a picture of how polluted the globe is,” Brunke says.

Brunke is the only person in the station today, although usually weather service employees go in twice a week. Many of the station’s projects – such as the GAW work – are collaborative, an important thing considering the station’s isolation which is reinforced by the howl of the sea wind and the long climb up the hill to the station. “We cannot work in isolation,” Brunke says, listing the station’s collaborators, which include local universities and science councils, such as the CSIR, as well as international partners, like the Max Plank Institute. One of its programmes with the CSIR is with Monteiro’s carbon programme, in which “we make long-term carbon dioxide measurements and provide collaboration facilities”. Both Monteiro and Brunke are also collaborating with CSIR systems ecologist Bob Scholes, whose research team is collecting environmental data in the Kruger National Park.

“It is important to put all the pieces together,” Brunke says. “Each one supplies a scientific block of information that should be gelled together … Pollution knows no boundaries. To understand the planet system, we must work with the big picture.”

A Wave Glider being retrieved

A Wave Glider is retrieved with a combined ship and small boat approach after spending numerous months sampling the Southerrn Ocean air-sea interface. These rare and valuable data are crucial to understanding the variability of the upper ocean currents and CO2 fluxes. Note the severe barnacle growth on thee underside of the glider’s surface float. Picture by Ken Findlay

For Monteiro, a picture on a computer screen has his undivided attention. “Put the glider on to a circle route and hold it in that position, or maybe we should drive it to the harbor entrance,” he says, and turns to pace. In the last 50 minutes, they have heard from the glider once, 10 minutes ago.

The storm on the horizon means that if they do not hear from the glider, and it has to hold its position, they will have to wait a week to retrieve it, and it might be too late to get it down to the Southern Ocean for winter.

Long minutes pass as the team stares at the screen. It is still in the shipping lane, but it is safe for the moment. Two minutes later: “ping”. Another long two minutes: “ping”. Engineer Andre Hook turns to Monteiro and says: “We’re getting hits every two minutes.” They set the glider’s course west, out of the shipping lane, and wait.

Reference

This article was written by Sarah Wild and published in the Mail and Guardian Newspaper:

http://mg.co.za/article/2014-06-12-robot-to-test-health-of-ocean-lungs

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