Most of us know what drones are. They fly and are remote controlled. But have you ever heard of a saildrone? According to Saildrone, Inc. “A saildrone is an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) that combines wind-powered propulsion technology and solar-powered meteorological and oceanographic sensors to perform autonomous long-range data collection missions in the harshest ocean environments.” Jessica Cross from NOAA is one of the researchers involved in using this technology to help collect data and improve climate models and raise awareness of Arctic vessel traffic.

Saildrone passing by the Healy at a safe distance.
Saildrone passing by the Healy at a safe distance.
The saildrone on the ocean. (Courtesy of NOAA)
The saildrone on the ocean. (Courtesy of NOAA)

The saildrone has many different sensors, but they can be categorized into instruments that collect atmospheric measurements, oceanic surface measurements, and oceanic sub-surface measurements. The Healy met up with one of these saildrones to calibrate the sensors on board. This was done remotely so the saildrone only passed by at a safe distance and the USV was not boarded.

All the sensors that can be included on a saildrone.
All the sensors that can be included on a saildrone.

Even though at a distance and next to the Healy the saildrones seem small, they are about 20 feet long and 20 feet tall. They move using the wind and the sensors are charged with solar panels. Saildrones average about 2 knots, but have reached up to 10 knots. They are very stable and have been able to handle 40 knot winds without rolling. These USVs are controlled remotely and are given a destination in the Arctic. They have built in sensors that help them tack with the wind and locate where they have been told to go.

Since the saildrone sensors are powered by solar panels, they can only operate during certain times of the year in the Arctic. In 2019, 6 saildrones were deployed from docks at Dutch Harbor in May. When they are ready to be collected in October, they will be told to sail back to the docks at Dutch Harbor for pickup. Saildrones are beneficial because they are fast, large, durable, and they can collect a large range of data without the cost of a ship to manually sample. If you are interested in saildrones, follow their blog.

Map of saildrone deployment for 2018.
Map of saildrone deployment for 2018.

A Question From the Crow's Nest

Why can't the saildrone sail during the winter months in the Arctic?

Answer from previous post: The deepest point in the ocean is the Mariana Trench. It is over 7 miles deep and has a pressure of 15,750 psi.

Date
Location
Chukchi Sea
Weather Summary
Partly sunny, 3-6 foot waves
Temperature
36 degrees F

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