We've long been covering autonomous sea vehicles whose mission it is to gather data from the surface and the depths of the ocean. The vehicles have been sent to track endangered animals, map sea beds, test water salinity and more. Usually these vehicles are in the form a of a glider, a small torpedo-shaped robot, but this is the first time we've seen a vehicle quite like the one being deployed to the Celtic Sea.
Called the C-Enduro, the catamaran-style vehicle is autonomous and powered by onboard solar and wind power and a back-up diesel engine. Through a partnership between the National Oceanography Centre and the World Wildlife Fund, it will travel along the surface of the Celtic Deep, a deep area of the sea known for attracting marine predators like dolphins and sea birds that lies between Ireland and the UK. The vehicle will be using GoPro cameras, marine mammal acoustic detectors and a meteorological station to conduct research about that part of the ocean and its inhabitants. Other onboard sensors will help it to detect marine animals and gather information about the sea.
The C-Enduro is capable of staying at sea for months at a time and will be minimally controlled by its maker ASV from its base in Portchester. The vehicle has a collision-avoidance system onboard to keep it from running into any other vessels and it also has a self-righting design in case it capsizes.
“The Celtic Sea contains known hotspots for iconic and highly mobile marine animals such as the mighty Fin Whale and the globally threatened Balearic Shearwater. However, we need a greater density of observations to really understand why these hotspots are so attractive to these animals, and how stable they are in space and time. Marine robotic technologies give us the opportunity to have a persistent presence in these areas, and are changing the way in which we conduct science in the marine environment,” said Professor Russell Wynn, who is coordinating the research at the National Oceanography Centre in the UK.
Joining the C-Enduro on this fact-finding mission is an underwater glider that will be exploring the sea column from the surface to down near the sea bed, creating 2D profiles of the environment. The glider, like the C-Enduro, is outfitted with numerous sensors for recording the temperature and salinity of the water column and things like the distribution and abundance of plankton and fish prey.
The researchers will be combining all of the data from the vehicles with satellite imagery and tidal predictions to hopefully get a complete picture of the Celtic Deep and what draws the marine predators to that spot, and, most importantly, how to protect that area and its inhabitants.