BP deploys unmanned research vehicles into Gulf of Mexico

BP is deploying a new technology that it claims will enable nearly constant monitoring by two satellite-controlled, unmanned vehicles in the Gulf of Mexico.

The deployment of the technology is part of the company’s long-term monitoring and research programme in the Gulf of Mexico.

The vehicles, known as Wave Gliders and developed by Liquid Robotics in Silicon Valley, California, get their propulsion power from wave action and use solar power to provide energy for their electronics.

They will be deployed today and begin a months-long, ongoing research programme in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the first application of this technology in the region.

‘These vehicles will provide us with a steady stream of data about water quality and should significantly increase the available data for ongoing research activity,’ said Mike Utsler, chief operating office of BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization. ‘We will initially deploy the Wave Gliders between the Macondo well and the shoreline and look to expand from there in the future.’

According to BP, the technology allows the long-term deployment of sensors to monitor key environmental variables including the detection of any emulsified, dissolved and dispersed oil in water, phytoplankton (chlorophyll) and coloured and dissolved oxygen matter.

Marine mammal vocalisations and weather and water temperature data will also be monitored.

’Initially, we will be calibrating a set of nine optical sensors to monitor water quality, including trace amounts of dispersed oil, and will then add the acoustic monitoring of marine mammal activity,’ said Roger Hine, president and chief executive officer of Liquid Robotics.

The first two Wave Glider vehicles will be deployed to the vicinity of the Macondo well; a second pair will be deployed in September. Data collected by the vehicles will be relayed via satellite and posted on a public website.