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GCN : December 2012
22 GCN DECEMBER 2012 • GCN.COM The Apollo 17 crew re- ported that from space, Earth looks like a big blue marble. But ironically, we know very little about what makes our planet blue, our vast and diverse oceans. "The ocean is a tremendous resource, yet we don't under- stand it enough, how to get more food from it, the effects of it absorbing more carbon, or what will happen as it becomes more acidic," said Christian Meinig, director of the Nation- al Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Ma- rie Environmental Laboratory. "In some ways we know more about deep space than our own oceans," he added. Nowhere is that more true than in the Arctic Ocean. It's a harsh place by any standard, and any exploration there has a lot of obstacles to overcome. Much of the year it's snowed over. The seas are unusually calm but clouds block out the sky more than half the time. And its sea floor is ringed by "pingos," that is, mountains of sunken rock and ice that form and move over time. Like hid- den underwater teeth, they can rip out the bottom of un- prepared or unfortified vessels there. Also, temperatures are GOALS: To create a robotic system to explore diverse ocean climates and currents in the harsh Arctic Ocean that can survive sub- zero temperatures and hazards such as icebergs to transmit scientific data and help scientists predict future weather and current patterns. TACTICS: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has bought several Wave Gliders from Liquid Robotics Inc., of Sunny- vale Calif., to remotely monitor the world s oceans, especially the Arctic Ocean, which is often di cult to observe by satellite because of near constant cloud cover. NOAA tested the robotic Wave Gliders at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. For the scientific part of the mission, the robots followed each other at 12-hour intervals. So if one robot took readings at noon, the second took the same sample at midnight. This allowed study of diurnal heating e ects. TOOLS: A WaveGlider is a surfboard-like float that contains all the instrumentation needed for scientific experiments plus the intelligence needed to keep the vessel on course or to maneuver it in a di erent direction. Two solar panels keep seven lithium- ion batteries charged in sequence, so that the topside instru- ments can be provided with six amps of continuous, 12-volt power. A simple 8-bit processor with about 20 commands sent through an Iridium Communications satellite modem is used for remotely navigating the WaveGlider. An onboard GPS receiver tracks its position. Mission sensors are driven by an ARM Processor running an embedded version of Linux. In an extreme test of technology endurance, NOAA's swimming robots deliver high science at low cost NOAA AQUATIC BOTS BREAK THE ICE ON CLIMATE RESEARCH CASE STUDY