UW News

February 5, 2004

Seagliders subject of Oceanography lecture

News and Information

Underwater gliders that can operate autonomously at sea for months at a time and travel thousands of miles are revolutionizing how oceanographers collect measurements.

The Feb. 11 lecture, “Small, Smart and Smooth: Sampling the Seven Seas with Long Range Robots,” by University of Washington oceanographer Charles Eriksen, will focus on the development at the UW of Seagliders, undersea robots that aren’t driven by propellers and which currently hold the record for the longest deployment ever of an autonomous underwater vehicle.

The lecture at 7 p.m. in Kane 210 on the UW campus is free and open to the public. It’s sponsored by the College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences as the second of three talks in this year’s Ocean to Stars Lecture Series. For more information call 206-616-6692.

A Seaglider – 6 feet long and painted its characteristic hot pink – will be on display.

Seagliders launched from small boats have then navigated thousands of miles across powerful boundary currents and through eddies in the roughest of seas, Eriksen says. A glider can surface every few hours, call in by satellite phone to relay data and perhaps receive instructions, before diving again to depths of more than half a mile.

Instead of being driven by propellers, they glide up and down by controlling their volume and pitch and roll attitudes, using a wing to convert buoyancy into forward motions, Eriksen says. Collecting information about water circulation and biology, Seagliders make oceanographic measurements traditionally collected by research vessels or moored instruments, but at a fraction of the cost. For example, it is estimated that autonomous gliders could operate for a year at the same cost as operating an oceanographic research vessel for a single day.

Seagliders have been developed as a cooperative project between the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory and School of Oceanography.