Return of the robot

Australian scientists are celebrating the first successful deployment and retrieval of a remotely controlled, deep-ocean-going robotic submarine.

Australian scientists are celebrating the first successful deployment and retrieval in Australia of a remotely controlled, deep-ocean-going robotic submarine destined to play a role in measuring changes in two of Australia’s most influential ocean currents.

Under the joint CSIRO Wealth from Oceans National Research Flagship and Integrated Marine Observation System (IMOS) project, the underwater ocean glider was launched in February on a two-month, 1,500km voyage.

With its porpoising motion and ability to descend to a depth of nearly 1,000m, the AU$200,000 (£97,000) robotic glider is being trialled in the Tasman Sea and the Indian Ocean as the latest tool in Australia’s AU$94m marine-observing network.

A recent innovation in oceanography, the winged gliders are programmable and guided by global positioning systems. They glide during depth changes, driven by an inflated oil-filled chamber. The glider’s sensors measure temperature and salinity, as well a range of biological parameters including oxygen and turbidity.

Ken Ridgway, senior CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship researcher, said: ‘We need to understand how the East Australian and Leeuwin Currents change from season to season and year to year, and the extent of their influence on local coastal conditions, as this affects climate, weather, fisheries and shipping.’

Electronics engineer Lindsay MacDonald (left) and oceanographer Ken Ridgway with the ocean glider, recovered east of the Tasman Peninsula on 14 April after two months sampling the East Australian Current