Like the sailing vessel used by Captain Joshua Slocum to sail solo around the world 100 years ago, another ocean-going vehicle is making history. A small ocean glider named Spray is the first autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV, to cross the Gulf Stream underwater, proving the viability of self-propelled gliders for long-distance scientific missions and opening new possibilities for studies of the oceans.
Jeff Sherman of Scripps, Breck Owens and Brian Guest of WHOI, assemble the glider in the WHOI float lab. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
An illustration of the Spray glider in action. (Illustration by Jayne Doucette, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Launched September 11, 2004, about 100 miles south of Nantucket Island, Mass., the two-meter- (6-foot)-long orange glider with a four-foot wingspan looks like a model airplane with no visible moving parts. It has been slowly making its way toward Bermuda some 600 miles to the south of Cape Cod at about one-half knot, roughly half a mile an hour or 12 miles per day, measuring various properties of the ocean as it glides up to the surface and then glides back down to 1,000-meters depth (3,300 feet) three times a day. Scientists recovered the vehicle this week north of Bermuda.
Every seven hours Spray spends about 15 minutes on the surface to relay its position and information about ocean conditions, such as temperature, salinity and pressure, via satellite back to Woods Hole, Mass., and San Diego, where scientists Breck Owens from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Russ Davis and Jeff Sherman of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, track its progress.
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