URI using drones in new ocean research

The year-long mission aims to help scientists better understand how the gulf stream affects weather, climate, and atmospheric carbon dioxide

By: Tim Studebaker

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – Oceanographers with URI want to better understand the North Atlantic’s warm ocean current, the Gulf Stream, and how it affects weather, climate, and atmospheric carbon dioxide.  To do this, they’re sending out six ocean drones that will spend a year collecting data.

Jaime Palter, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Oceanography at URI.  Palter says, “Above the water, it has basically a weather station.  And below the water, it has many of the instruments that we have on our research vessel, and can measure sea surface temperature, sea surface salinity, oxygen, and in this case, carbon dioxide.”

The ocean absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas emitted when fossil fuels are burned.  By absorbing it, the ocean helps remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but that also affects water quality.  URI will be leading that part of the research.

Palter says, “I’m like one small player in this very big community of people working to understand the world, and doing it in this collaborative way that we really rely on one another.”

The drones are made by a company called Saildrone.  They’re solar powered, and can collect data even in the harshest weather conditions.  The constant flow of data from multiple locations could have a big impact on scientists’ understanding of what’s happening in the middle of the ocean.

Palter says, “It gives you a view of the ocean that basically has been inaccessible to people, except in very small numbers on boats, until now.”

Meanwhile, the meteorological measurements the drones collect will be used to improve global weather forecasting computer models.  The drones are scheduled to launch from Newport in the fall.

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Categories: News, Rhode Island