Artificial Intelligence: Underwater, Autonomous Glider Tracks CO2 Levels In Alaska’s Resurrection Bay

Pictured Above: The Research Vessel Nanuq that deployed the underwater drone.

CO2 concentrations are a valuable quantifier of ocean acidification, the result of greenhouse gases emitted by human activities. Hitherto, CO2 concentrations in our oceans were monitored by ships, buoys and moorings tethered to the ocean floor. In a new method, a robotic glider (underwater drone) fitted with a large CO2 sensor was deployed overnight in the Gulf of Alaska by the Nanuq, a University of Alaska Fairbanks research vessel. (

Underwater drone measures CO2

Cyprus Subsea Consulting and Services provided the underwater drone, and 4H-Jena, a German company provided the sensor inserted into the drone.

The underwater sea glider is colored pink, measures 5 feet in length, and weighs about 130 pounds. It is capable of diving to depths of as much as 3,281 feet and can traverse remote locations in oceans.

The drone does not contain a GPS unit. It uses instead navigation instructions that are programmed into it prior to deployment. It is then able to descend to the right depth, at the right spot, and execute sampling instructions. It surfaces at an appointed time and sends out a locator signal.

The sensor attached to the underwater drone is about a foot tall and has a diameter of 6 inches. It contains equipment necessary to analyze CO2 in a temperature-controlled system that also records and stores the data.

After the overnight dive, researchers aboard the Nanuq retrieved the glider on surfacing, and removed the sensor so its data could be uploaded in the ship’s cabin.

The importance of acidification data

Clearly, it is now possible to collect targeted and much larger amounts of data using an underwater drone for the study of ocean acidification – a very important exercise if we are to protect marine life and organisms from rising ocean CO2 levels due to human pollution.

The impact of acidification is already visible on oysters, Dungeness crabs and other species in the Pacific Northwest.

“We need to get confidence in our measurements and confidence in our models if we are going to make important scientific statements about how the oceans are changing over time and how it’s going to impact our important economic systems that are dependent on the food from the sea,” said Richard Feely, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s senior scientist at the agency’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.

Related Story: AI To Predict Growth Of Harmful Algal Blooms in Oceans

Image Credit: Facebook-RV Nanuq

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