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On September 24, 2013 at the Oceans ‘13 conference in San Diego, Dr. Tracy Villareal of the University of Texas at Austin, was announced as the Grand Prize winner of the PacX Challenge.

For his research on a comparison of scientific spatial data collected from U.S. satellite streams to in-situ or surface data collected by the four PacX Wave Gliders, Dr. Villareal received a $50,000 research grant from BP, and 6 months of Wave Glider time for research (valued at $300,000) from Liquid Robotics.

The work of the other three finalists on ocean respiration, photoplankton ecology and FSLE ridges in the Pacific was also recognized at the event. They were:
Dr. J. Michael Beman, University of California, Merced
Dr. Nicole Goebel, University of California, Santa Cruz
Dr. Elise Ralph, Independent Oceanographer, Boston, MA

Although the PacX Challenge culminates with the award of the grand prize, the exploration of the Pacific Ocean continues. The PacX data set is still available and you are encouraged to register to use it.

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Benjamin, our second waveglider headed to Australia, has arrived!   On February 14, 2013 at 22:20 UTC, after over 9400 nautical miles traveled from San Francisco, he finally arrived in Hervey Bay Australia.  He collected millions of data points and survived some really exciting storms.

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polarjacksw said: With the arrival in Australia of Benjamin in the next days, is there any chance to see Fontaine Maru coming back to Hawaii in order to explore the PacX route to Japan ? Did you have some GPS information coming from the ghost Piccard Maru ?

Benjamin has almost arrived in Australia.  Fontaine is back in the shop and has almost finished being refitted.  Part of the reason to do PacX was to perform some experiments, and we’ve learned some interesting exotic metallurgy from Fontaine.  We’ll get him back in the water as fast as we can.  Piccard should follow shortly after.

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The first of our 4 transpacific voyagers has made it to Australia. After a hectic final dash through the East Australia Current, Papa Mau was picked up November 19th (the white line on the map). It got far ahead of the other waveglider headed for Australia (Benjamin) when the other took some damage to it’s solar panel, so we had it detour (the red line) through Samoa and have a pit stop at a beach resort - our repair technicians get the best business trips.
On November 24th Fontaine Maru, one of the wavegliders bound for Japan, was picked up and is on its way back to Hawaii.  It’s going to get some repairs done before heading off again.  Our thanks to the captain and crew of the R/V Kilo Moana!

The first of our 4 transpacific voyagers has made it to Australia. After a hectic final dash through the East Australia Current, Papa Mau was picked up November 19th (the white line on the map). It got far ahead of the other waveglider headed for Australia (Benjamin) when the other took some damage to it’s solar panel, so we had it detour (the red line) through Samoa and have a pit stop at a beach resort - our repair technicians get the best business trips.

On November 24th Fontaine Maru, one of the wavegliders bound for Japan, was picked up and is on its way back to Hawaii.  It’s going to get some repairs done before heading off again.  Our thanks to the captain and crew of the R/V Kilo Moana!

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kazenori said: Can you inform me of the ETA of the Piccard Maru and Fontaine Maru in Japan as well as the location they will be coming ashore. Thank you

Unknown.  They’ve both had mechanical issues and are in need of some help :-(  They both had some experimental modifications that hadn’t been tested on a long voyage.

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polarjacksw said: Is the unit of the wind speed in m/s or in knots (Nm/s) ? When comparing a dataset coming from ERDAP database (transmitted unit is in m/s) and the same dataset downloaded from SLAB database (unit is in knots), this is the same value... even with a ratoi of 1.852 !!! The user manual of AIRMAR PB200 uses knots and MPH.

It’s in knots: the unit specification from the old ERDDAP database was wrong.  It’s accurate to about 1/10 of a knot.

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It has been two weeks since Papa Mau crossed the equator. In light of this achievement, we’ve examined the data from his CTD (conductivity, temperature, density) sensor in order to investigate the physical properties of the water he has traversed over the past 28 days. 

As you can see, the temperature has been steadily increasing as Papa Mau travels into the Southern Latitudes (note that patches of data are missing as energy from the solar panels must occasionally be rerouted). The CTD picks up the small changes in temperature between daytime and nighttime as a clear signal. As temperature increases, you can also see the water becoming steadily more deaerated. This phenomenon is also tracking the daily fluctuation of temperature. This is perhaps the strongest signal of any seen on the PacX voyage (with an almost linear correlation between temperature and oxygen solubility).

Salinity, and therefore conductivity, also increase with temperature (so far still no laws of physics broken on the PacX voyage). The salinity maximum found was 35.58 PSU’s, which is consistent with long term global measurements of oceanic salinity for this region.

All of this data is readily accessible at http://slab.liquidr.com/. Papa Mau is travelling well, and his sensors are still fully operational. Not bad for an 8,000 mile road trip!

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Three of the PacX gliders are about to cross the international dateline, or at least the +-180 degree line.  As one reader pointed out (thanks Jacques!), given the way the dateline wiggles around, one has already made the transition.  While crossing the dateline doesn’t have quite the historic ceremony of an equator crossing, it’ll still qualify the bots as, in the terms of the Navy, members of the Order of the Golden Dragon.
If you haven’t seen it before, the PacX status page at http://slab.liquidr.com/finishline/ has a good selection of trivia.

Three of the PacX gliders are about to cross the international dateline, or at least the +-180 degree line.  As one reader pointed out (thanks Jacques!), given the way the dateline wiggles around, one has already made the transition.  While crossing the dateline doesn’t have quite the historic ceremony of an equator crossing, it’ll still qualify the bots as, in the terms of the Navy, members of the Order of the Golden Dragon.

If you haven’t seen it before, the PacX status page at http://slab.liquidr.com/finishline/ has a good selection of trivia.

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Equator crossing

Yesterday morning (July 17th)  Papa Mau crossed the equator.  The software survived the sign change with (almost) no hiccups :-)  Benjamin should be crossing in a couple of weeks.  To get a quick dashboard on the gliders, look here.

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A Little More About Mid Ocean Phytoplankton Blooms

Papa Mau and  Benjamin are still traversing an area of dense chlorophyll A concentration. As previously mentioned, the increased chlorophyll A concentration is indicative of a dense ‘bloom’ of phytoplankton, microscopic oceanic plants that are the food source for krill and other miniscule marine invertebrates, which in turn form the dominant food source for much of the marine fauna. The mechanics of seasonal algal blooms are much more complex than an occasional patch of phytoplankton randomly spawning in favorable conditions.  Phytoplankton exist year round in the ocean, migrating with the currents and growing more profusely in warmer waters. Nearer the equator, their presence is stronger and much more stable, as water temperatures are higher and fluctuate less. This is why our northern pair of PacX gliders are not discovering as much phytoplankton.

These tiny, marine flora persist most constantly near the equator, where water temperatures are both the warmest and most consistent. A key reason for this is due to the angle of incidence of solar rays, which warm equatorial waters much more efficiently than that at the poles.

In a positive feedback loop, the increase in phytoplankton in the water increases its ability to absorb sunlight, further warming the water and improving the growing conditions for these plants. As less sunlight reaches past the phytoplankton bloom, a thermal gradient is formed trapping the warm, biologically active mix at the surface. This is the reason for the strong temperature spike seen upon entering the bloom.

Carbon sequestration is a popular concern. It has been shown that 1 gram of marine chlorophyll sequesters roughly 4 grams of carbon per hour (Ryther and Yentsch, 1957). Much of the carbon humans pollute is absorbed by the oceans, and much of that is done by the marine plant community. When eaten, the carbon is transferred to the fish and so on up the food chain, before top predators sink to the bottom of the ocean for longer term storage. In this way, phytoplankton is key, not just to sustaining life in the oceans, but mitigating the pollution created by the burning of fossil fuels. The processes surrounding these tiny plants must be understood more thoroughly in order to preserve them in a world of shifting currents and changing ocean conditions.

Currently, phytoplankton distribution is most efficiently tracked by satellite (Yoder et al. 1993), as demonstrated by our previously-posted satellite image.

Although satellite tracking can give an estimate of the distribution of phytoplankton, and point to the densest regions, in situ data serves to broaden our understanding of the oceanic conditions in these areas. Imagine a fleet of 100 wave gliders perusing the phytoplankton rich equatorial waters, mapping in high detail ocean currents, water temperature, salinity profiles, pH and even low-atmosphere weather conditions. Better understanding the relationship between all of these variables will greatly help to inform models and predictive strategies we will need to understand how the ocean, and its life, will change in the face of a climate being transformed by humans. There is no replacement for boots-on-the-ground research.  

All life processes have an effect on our planet’s shifting climate. The oceans are critical to life. Let’s start to understand them much more thoroughly.

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References

J. H. Ryther and C. S. Yentsch 1957 The estimation of phytoplankton production in the ocean from chlorophyll and light data. Limnology and Oceanography Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 281-286
J. A. Yoder, C. R. McClain, G. C. Feldman and W. E. Esaias 1993 Annual cycles of phytoplankton chlorophyll concentrations in the global ocean: A satellite view. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Vol. 7, No. 1, PP. 181-193


On November 17th, 2011, in San Francisco, Liquid Robotics launched four Wave Gliders that will travel the longest distance at sea ever completed by an unmanned marine vehicle. The robots will travel together to Hawaii and then take separate routes across the Pacific, one pair arriving in Japan and the other in Australia. While at sea, the Wave Gliders will be routed across regions never before remotely surveyed and will continuously transmit valuable data on salinity and water temperature, waves, weather, fluorescence, and dissolved oxygen.

Note: As solar power is available or unavailable we are cycling the sensors so you may see gaps in the data. This is unfortunate but expected.


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