A seven-meter-long, wind-powered unmanned surface vehicle (USV) called a Saildrone has become the first unmanned system to circumnavigate Antarctica.
The vehicle, known as SD 1020, was equipped with a suite of climate-grade sensors and collected data in previously unchartered waters, enabling new key insights into ocean and climate processes.
The 196-day mission was launched from Southport in Bluff, New Zealand, on January 19, 2019, returning to the same port on August 3 after sailing over 22,000 km (13,670 miles) around Antarctica.
During the mission, the vehicle survived freezing temperatures, 15-meter (50-foot) waves, 130 km/h (80 mph) winds, and collisions with giant icebergs.
Science collaborators on this First Saildrone Antarctic Circumnavigation include experts from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Palmer Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER), the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS), the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI), the Norwegian Polar Institute, the University of Exeter, the University of Gothenburg, the Department of Marine Science, University of Otago, and the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).
Saildrone USVs are designed for long-term ocean deployments, up to 12 months, yet burn no fossil fuels, hence have a zero carbon footprint once deployed. They are powered exclusively by the wind for propulsion and solar energy to power the onboard instruments.
Saildrones carry a suite of science-grade sensors to collect meteorological and oceanographic data critical to understanding the changes taking place in the Antarctic ecosystem. The standard sensor suite includes instruments to measure air and sea temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, and wave height and period, as well as sky, sea, and horizon cameras. In addition to the ASVCO2, SD 1020’s enhanced sensor package includes an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) to measure ocean currents.
Saildrone is building a global fleet of unmanned surface vehicles, targeting planetary coverage.
Saildrone plans to deploy a fleet of vehicles to monitor the Southern Ocean on a persistent basis, a fleet of 10 – 20 saildrones sailing around Antarctica year-round.
All data from this mission has been made publicly available to the global scientific community and its use for science publications is encouraged.