Britain's National Oceanography Centre (NOC) deploys a sensor-packed submarine glider to work with an autonomous catamaran, in a bid to discover why part of the Celtic Sea attracts such a diverse range of marine life. Matthew Stock reports.
Marine scientists recently deployed this autonomous catamaran on a mission in the Celtic Sea. Equipped with solar panels and a wind turbine, it could potentially remain offshore for several months. But it won't be working alone. A submarine glider like this is working alongside it... (SOUNDBITE) (English) LAVINIA SUBERG, MARINE BIOLOGIST AT NATIONAL OCEANOGRAPHY CENTRE (NOC), SAYING: "In this particular project, the novelty is that we are combining surface and underwater vehicles. The surface vehicles move above the surface just like a boat and collects data mainly on atmospheric variables and anything that's happening on the water surface. Whereas the underwater glider oscillates with the water column and gives us information on the physical characteristics of the water." The mission was launched by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). They're trying to understand why the Celtic Deep region, off the south-west coast of Wales, is abundant in marine life -- a so-called 'biodiversity hotspot'. (SOUNDBITE) (English) LAVINIA SUBERG, MARINE BIOLOGIST AT NATIONAL OCEANOGRAPHY CENTRE (NOC), SAYING: "So, biodiversity hotspots are areas in the ocean that are usually particularly productive. Productive areas attract zooplankton, and that in turn attracts fish. Areas of enhanced or elevated biomass of fish often attract marine mammals and seabirds in turn." Despite the glider's torpedo-like shape, it travels very slowly in order to accurately gather data and help its battery last up to six months. And it's packed with scientific equipment. (SOUNDBITE) (English) STEPHEN WOODWARD, GLIDER ENGINEER AT NATIONAL OCEANOGRAPHY CENTRE (NOC), SAYING: "The sensors that we use are things like oxygen optodes, we measure conductivity, temperature, salinity. We have echo-sounders to detect zooplankton and fish, acoustic Doppler current profilers for measuring the currents in the water, wet-lab fluorometres for measuring chlorophyll and organic matter, and a few other specialist sensors as well." The robotic duo will give scientists rare access to data gathered over various levels of the food-chain simultaneously. It's research they hope could eventually help better inform future conservation initiatives of marine environments.