CSIRO and ocean technology start-up Saildrone are collaborating to deploy state-of-the-art automated marine monitoring vehicles to study our oceans and climate

The challenge

Collecting data across our enormous ocean

The oceans play a pivotal role in influencing our climate, and are home to a tremendous diversity of underwater ecosystem that sustain life on Earth.

CSIRO has added Saildrones to its extensive network of marine and climate monitoring systems

The oceans absorb about 90 per cent of heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions and takes up about 25 per cent of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere each year, helping to slow the rate of climate change. Ocean plants provide about 50 per cent of the oxygen we breath, while marine ecosystems are vital for tourism and as a source of food.

Ocean observations and collection of data are essential to underpinning the development of the blue economy, covering a range of needs from data to support sustainable management of marine ecosystems, to improving medium to long-term forecasts of weather and climate for Australia. The collection of observations regularly and at scale around Australia's vast ocean estate is a huge challenge. Autonomy is a key technological solution helping to address this challenge.

Our response

Plugging data gaps through autonomous systems

The growth of autonomous observing systems has revolutionised the possibilities around what data can be collected in the ocean, and from where. We are actively investing in the development of autonomous technologies to support a wide range of ocean science operations. Developments in both hardware and software are extending the global range over which observations can be made. Improved sensors are capturing data across a wider range of variables and more frequently.

Delivery of data in real-time through satellite links has enhanced the possibilities for ocean science research, bringing technological solutions to enable responses to complex and immediate problems such as measuring the extent and impacts of marine heatwaves or oil spills in remote areas where ships may not be available.

The use of unmanned surface vehicles (USV) around Australia and in the Southern Ocean presents a leap forward in the way ocean data is collected, plugging gaps in the available ocean and climate data for researchers.

[Music plays and images move through of a workshop, a saildrone on a stand and the saildrone sails]

[Image changes to show Richard Jenkins talking to the camera and then climbing a ladder to the saildrone and text appears: Richard Jenkins, Founder and CEO – Saildrone]

Richard Jenkins: The oceans cover over 70% of our planet and it really is the majority of the world’s surface and they’re really the least understood things on the planet.

[Image changes to show Richard fitting something on to a saildrone and then the image changes to show Andreas Marouchos talking to the camera and then talking to Richard and text appears: Andreas Marouchos, Research Group Leader, CSIRO]

Andreas Marouchos: One of the big challenges in looking at global climate change and global variability is a lack of observations.

[Images move through of Andreas talking to the camera, the sail of the saildrone, two people in conversation and Andreas talking to the camera]

CSIRO brings to the table a lot of expertise and engineering and technology to drive the development of new and innovative science observation platforms.

[Images move through of Andreas and Richard looking down at something, Tim Ryan and a female in conversation and then Andreas talking to the camera]

The partnership with Saildrone and CSIRO is quite unique in that it provides opportunities for scientists who would not otherwise be able to go to sea to make very critical ocean observations.

[Image changes to show Richard working on a saildrone in a workshop and then the image changes to show Richard standing in front of a saildrone and talking to the camera]

Richard Jenkins: The Saildrone works with combination of wind and solar using this unique patented wing, we harness the wind energy to push the vehicle along and then we use solar to charge the batteries and that runs the computers on board.

[Images move through of Richard and a female in conversation, Richard talking to the camera and then Richard and Andreas in conversation]

So, it doesn’t consume anything while it goes along and so it can stay at sea almost indefinitely.

[Image changes to show Richard standing in front of a saildrone and talking to the camera]

CSIRO adds value to us in many ways.

[Images move through of Richard and Andreas in conversation and looking at the saildrone, a female with them looking at the saildrone and then Andreas looking at a sensor]

The prestige of working with such incredible research scientists dramatically shortens the timeline through integration of new sensors for us.

[Image changes to show Richard talking to the camera and then the image changes to show a male putting a sticker on the saildrone]

So, we can deploy mission with the drone much faster than we would have otherwise been able to do so.

[Images move through of Tim talking to the camera, three people looking at the saildrone, Tim talking to the camera again and text appears: Tim Ryan, Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO]

Tim Ryan: Saildrones are capable of making a wide range of scientific measurements both of the atmosphere immediately above the ocean and information from the ocean itself.

[Image changes to show people looking at the saildrone and then the image changes to show the saildrone being moved out of the workshop]

That includes salinity sensors, temperature sensors, atmospheric sensors.

[Image changes to show Tim talking to the camera and then the image changes to show the saildrone being moved by a type of tractor]

What we’re bringing to the table is some very dedicated, specific instrumentation measuring the carbon both in the water and immediately above the water surface.

[Image changes to show Andreas talking to the camera and then the image changes to show the saildrone being moved above the water]

Andreas Marouchos: This allows us to understand the carbon fluxes that are happening at the ocean surface.

[Image changes to show Tim talking to the camera and then the image changes to show the saildrone being deployed in the water]

Tim Ryan: That’s fundamental to understanding the uptake of carbon which goes into global climate models.

[Images move through of Andreas in conversation with two other people, Andreas talking to the camera and then saildrone being deployed, moving in the water and tied up to the dock]

Andreas Marouchos: We’re also equipping the systems with a scientific echo sounder which will insonify the water column, basically ping the water column with an acoustic pulse which allows us to look at the biota, the fish, the critters in the water column as well as potential bubble seeps coming from the ocean floor. 

[Images move through of Andreas talking, two males in a cabin, a male working on a laptop, Richard looking at a Smartphone and three males in conversation and the saildrones moving in the water]

There’s lots of opportunities to collect very interesting data with the saildrones across Australian waters and particularly in areas of ocean energy research in the Southern Ocean and in Antarctic waters where we see very little vessel variability and vessel access and in areas such as the Great Barrier Reef where we see lots of changes.

[Images move through of a control panel and then Andreas and a male looking at a laptop]

The CSIRO is a world leader in global climate research.

[Image changes to show Margaret Donoghue talking and then the image changes to show a male and Andreas looking out over the water and text appears: Margaret Donoghue, Director, CSIRO Strategic Partnerships, US]

Margaret Donoghue: Our partners have access to the 5,000 researchers across our multiple disciplines.

[Image changes to show the saildrones on the water and then the image changes to show Margaret talking to the camera and then the image changes to show the saildrone sails]

This means that working with us, we can help them bring their technology to the next level and remain on the cutting edge.

[Image changes to show Richard talking to the camera]

Richard Jenkins: There’s so many problems facing the ocean, you know it’s a gargantuan task.

[Images move through of Richard looking at the saildrones and a Smartphone, Andreas and a male in conversation, Richard talking to the camera and the saildrone on the water]

Right now we have the saildrones from California down across the Equator into the Southern Ocean and that takes about six to eight months but deploying from Hobart is a huge advantage to us.

[Image changes to show Richard talking to the camera and then the image changes to show a group of people posing for a photograph in front of the saildrone]

Having a research lab, and scientist, and engineering facilities in Hobart is incredibly valuable.

[Camera zooms in on the group and then images move through of Richard talking to the camera, some of the scientists, Richard talking to the camera and the saildrone on the water]

CSIRO are well renowned for an incredible sense of innovation, some amazing scientists, they’re a bunch of really fun, exciting and knowledgeable Australians who are taking this project to the next level in the southern hemisphere.

[Image changes to show Andreas talking to the camera and then the image changes to show the saildrone moving through the water towards a bridge]

Andreas Marouchos: CSIRO will deploy a large range of technology and science and that can feed into the observations that are needed for the modelling community to make predictions that allow us to understand.

[Image changes to show Tim talking to the camera]

Tim Ryan: It’s all those questions that Australia faces and indeed the planet faces as well.

[Music plays and the image changes to show a saildrone on a stand and then the image changes to show a white screen and text appears: CSIRO, www.csiro.au]

Our Saildrone partnership – a new frontier in ocean data collection :  CSIRO has announced a partnership with San Francisco-based ocean technology start-up, Saildrone, to radically improve measurement and monitoring in Australian waters and the Southern Ocean.

The results

Partnering with Saildrone for next-gen ocean research

CSIRO has established a research partnership with San Francisco based ocean technology start-up Saildrone.

Saildrones are solar and wind powered and can be at sea for up to 12 months without returning to dock.

Saildrone USVs are a revolution in ocean measuring with applications across climate and environmental monitoring, fisheries research and stock assessments, and defence. They are equipped with a powerhouse of ocean chemistry, meteorological and marine acoustic sensors. They are solar and wind powered, and capable of being deployed at sea for extended periods of up to 12 months without returning to dock.

Carbon measurements aboard the Saildrones make use of technology developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environment Lab (NOAA-PMEL).

The USVs will enable ocean and climate data collection to deepen our knowledge on the marine environment and provide important input into a sustainable ocean and prosperous blue economy.

CSIRO’s partnership with Saildrone will enhance our extensive network of marine and climate monitoring systems around Australia and to provide a platform for development of next generation marine technologies.

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