November 23: Gliders

Post by W&M undergraduate Domi Paxton.

The other day I went out with the phytoplankton group from the Rutgers University Coastal Ocean Observational Lab to release one of their Slocum Gliders.

The Slocum Glider
The Slocum Glider

Gliders are released in harsh environments (like Antarctica) to make real-time observations when it is too dangerous to send out a human. They measure things such as dissolved oxygen, temperature, and chlorophyll (a measure of phytoplankton biomass) over large spatial domains. As the glider travels it dives up and down taking measurements, surfacing to send its coordinates back to the lab.

To release the glider we loaded it into a Zodiac and head for Outcast Island, one of the outermost islands surrounding Palmer. We then continued on for about a mile to give the glider a wide berth; you have to release them far away from land because they take a very long time to turn (rudder on the tail). We then attached a buoy and rope to the glider for a test dive, after its successfully completed that (with instructions sent via satellite from Rutgers) it returned to the surface and we took off the rope and let it go for good.

Sadly, that day the glider didn’t do so well, it was swimming backwards and the phytoplankton group had to retrieve it. However, since then it has been released again and is successfully navigating itself around Palmer Canyon.

Author: David Malmquist

David Malmquist is the Director of Communications at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary.