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BP Deploying Advanced Unmanned Water Quality Monitoring Vehicles in Gulf of Mexico

THEODORE, AL - As part of its long term monitoring and research program in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is deploying a new technology that will enable nearly constant monitoring by two satellite-controlled, unmanned vehicles.

The vehicles, known as Wave Gliders and developed by Liquid Robotics in Silicon Valley, California, get their propulsion power from wave action and use solar power for their electronics. They will be deployed beginning today and begin a months-long, ongoing research program in the Gulf of Mexico.

"These vehicles will provide us a steady stream of data about water quality and should significantly increase the available data for ongoing research activity," said Mike Utsler, chief operating office of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization. "We will initially deploy the Wave Gliders between the Macondo well and the shoreline, and look to expand from there in the future." The unique technology allows deployment of sensors persistently, for the long term, to monitor key environmental variables, including:
  • water quality - detection of any emulsified, dissolved and dispersed oil in water; phytoplankton (chlorophyll); colored, dissolved oxygen matter (CDOM) and other scientifically useful variables
  • marine mammal vocalizations
  • weather and water temperature data.
"Initially we will be calibrating a set of nine optical sensors to monitor water quality, including trace amounts of dispersed oil, and will then add acoustic monitoring of marine mammal activity," said Roger Hine, president and CEO of Liquid Robotics. "We look forward to working with BP on this extended research program."

The first two Wave Glider vehicles will be deployed to the vicinity of the Macondo well; a second pair will be deployed in September. Data collected by the vehicles will be relayed via satellite and posted on a public website.


Wave Glider Fact Sheet


Some jobs are made for a robot.   Detailed understanding of an ocean ecosystem requires continuous, precise and repetitive data collection, for extended periods.

Typically robotic systems have been challenged by limited battery power. The Wave Glider innovatively overcomes this challenge. It uses no fuel, has no motor, and no propeller - but it can swim in any direction at speeds up to two knots - for as long as necessary.   It uses a unique, patented, system for converting even the tiniest amount of wave motion into thrust, in any direction.   It uses solar panels to power electronics, and houses a sophisticated set of sensors, satellite communications, and microprocessors.

Though Liquid Robotics is a Silicon Valley company, the Wave Glider concept was born in Hawaii, originally invented for listening to the remarkable songs of humpback whales.

The Mission

·        Deploy sensors persistently, for the long term, to monitor key environmental variables:

o       Water quality,

§         including emulsified, dissolved and dispersed oil in water

§         Phytoplankton (chlorophyll), CDOM and other scientifically useful variables

o       Marine mammal vocalizations

o       Weather and water temperature data

·        Bring the data to shore real-time and display it live on a public web page (hydrophone data will be recorded and stored on board, for periodic retrieval  - streaming audio is a future upgrade)

·        Hold station or survey areas to monitor the environment, as desired by marine scientists

Wave Glider Accomplishments:

·        The Wave Glider fleet has cumulatively been at sea for 11.5 years and has covered over 100,000 miles.

·        A single Wave Glider, Stripes, launched in December 2008, has been at sea for over 600 days, travelling 15,500 miles. Stripes is still swimming, with minimal maintenance required to date.

·        Two Wave Gliders, Honu and Kohola, traveled from Kona, Hawaii to San Diego, California - 2,750 miles in 79 days

·        A Wave Glider, Red Flash, traveled from Mexico to Alaska and held station in 21 foot seas and 50 knot winds.

Wave Glider Basics:

·        Wave Glider is self-propelled, and can travel or hold station.

·        Waves and Sun - Energy for propulsion is harvested from waves. Energy for electronics is solar.

·        Mission durations of 1 year are possible, covering thousands of miles.

·        Can navigate autonomously, but continuous satellite communications allow re-tasking any time.

·        Satellites transmit data from Wave Glider to shore, and commands from shore to the Wave Glider.

·        Sensors are mounted on the float, the submarine, or are towed in a streamlined towfish.

Liquid Robotics Background:

·        The Wave Glider is designed and manufactured by a small business with offices in Silicon Valley and on the Big Island of Hawaii.

·        The technology was invented, originally, to listen to humpback whale song.

What are Wave Gliders doing in the Gulf?

·        Fluorometry
Turner Designs' fluorometers are mounted on the float and underwater towfish. These instruments will measure water chemistry, detecting trace hydrocarbons and biological activity.

·        Marine Mammal Detection
A Scripps Institution of Oceanography underwater recorder will locate the sounds made by marine mammals, giving scientists a long term record of whale activity in the area.

·        Weather Station
A weather station will measure atmospheric conditions near the ocean surface.

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