Collecting weather data along the Gulf Stream in severe winter conditions is a challenge, to say the least, for traditional ships with human crews.
To make the process easier and more efficient, Saildrone, headquartered in Alameda, California, manufactures surface vehicles that use renewable energy like wind and solar power to measure climate quality data and carry out mapping in remote oceans to gather the information that is then made available to scientists worldwide.
Three of the company’s ocean drones launched from Rhode Island last week and are traveling along the Gulf Stream to sail the strong ocean currents in the North Atlantic for a six-month period. The hope is that the drones will gather the information needed to improve medium and long-range weather forecasting, and to account for how much human-produced carbon dioxide the Gulf Stream is capable of absorbing. The carbon data could be especially helpful for improving the models that others use to hold countries accountable for their carbon-reducing goals.
For instance, the carbon budget announced at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow uses ocean carbon uptake estimates that are generated by models and statistical methods to fill in the gaps where no data has been collected. Using the data that the drones are able to collect in the thick of a storm will yield more certain results.
The three-drone mission is being led by scientists from the University of Rhode Island and the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and is funded by a $1 million grant from the philanthropic branch of Google, Google.org, and its Impact Challenge on Climate.
According to the vice president at Saildrone, Susan Ryan, the drones will have to face strong currents and fierce storms. Philip Browne, a research scientist at ECMWF, says that his team is excited to see the data that the drones collect from the physically and scientifically challenging areas that human crews cannot survey.
The drones are expected to be collected in Newport next year, but the data they collect will be sent back to scientists through satellite in real-time as they make their way along the Gulf Stream.