Stanford University’s Professor of Marine Sciences, Barbara Block, wants to preserve the ocean ecosystem by using smart buoys. The project is called the “wired ocean.” The buoys would be part of a network of ocean listening stations. The plan is to detect sea life from large ocean going predators like Great White Sharks so that the public can be aware of their locations at all times. Such long-term monitoring of sea life will give us a stronger understanding of the ecology of the ocean.
Global ocean monitoring has been a subject we have covered before on this blog. The Argo Programme has deployed 3,500 floating sensors that constantly meter the ocean’s temperature and chemistry.
Stanford has recently completed a decade-long project which involved tagging 4,000 large marine animals to find out where they come and go seasonally. The marine animals were tracked by satellite. The data collected identified hot spots in the ocean where marine animals tended to congregate because of optimal feeding conditions.
Wave Glider and the Wired Ocean
Satellite sensor equipment is expensive. That’s why Stanford has turned to using a technology from Liquid Robotics, a Sunnyvale, California company, the developer of the Wave Glider. This unique and inexpensive marine robot operates autonomously using its on board computer, GPS, a weather station, solar panels, and an umbilical attached to a sub-surface mechanical propulsion system designed to convert wave action into forward thrust (see picture below). A Wave Glider can pick up the acoustic signal from any tagged animal that passes within 300 meters (approximately 1,000 feet) and transmit the data to a research team on shore.
Wave Gliders have been in operation since 2008 logging as many as 400 days at sea before returning to their home ports. Total distance traveled has exceeded 160,000 kilometers (100,000 miles). One recently took a trip from Monterey Bay to the Alaska coast enduring Sea State 6 conditions with 6 meter (20-foot) waves and 74 kilometer (40-knot) winds. Having been on a cruise ship off the Alaska coast in 6-meter seas I can tell you my stomach and head didn’t survive the experience very well. So I consider Wave Glider’s abilities to be pretty impressive.
Global Ocean Monitoring the Ultimate Goal
For the moment the work at Stanford is focused on wildlife off the California coast and in particular near Monterey Bay. The university hopes to monitor sharks, sea turtles and other large species to build an information database that it can share with the public to give all of us a better picture of the ocean off the California coast.
But what Stanford is doing locally off California has global implications. Technology such as the Wave Glider will help us better understand the health of the largest creatures in our oceans. We should be able to identify areas within the ocean where we can establish marine preserves to ensure survival of species like the Great White, Salmon and Mako Shark, as well as marine mammals and reptiles. It is hoped through such efforts that global public awareness will lead to preservation and conservancy.