Autonomous Surface Vehicles

A wide variety of autonomous vehicles are available for studying the marine environment. These include unmanned aerial systems (UAS), autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), and autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs). For more details on AUVs, please visit the DOSITS content on Underwater Gliders. This section will focus on ASVs.

ASVs operate without a crew onboard, remaining at or just below the ocean surface. They generally navigate autonomously using pre-programed GPS waypoints; however, a pilot supervising a vehicle’s progress via satellite link can change the vehicle’s course if necessary. Originally designed for military purposes, ASVs are now also utilized in activities such as commercial shipping, bridge inspection, environmental monitoring, and seafloor mapping. ASVs are also valuable in research, as they can be deployed for long durations (> 100 days). They can collect oceanographic data in rough weather and remote environments, and are less expensive and more flexible to operate than traditional research vessels.

Autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs), such as the wind and solar-powered Saildrone (left), have become important tools to measure environmental changes in the Arctic. This region is rapidly changing, and it is a large and very challenging environment to study. ASVs have provided important data on Arctic parameters such as sea ice extent (above), carbon flux, and zooplankton biomass. Photo credits: NOAA and Saildrone, Inc.

ASVs can be launched from shore or at sea. Some vehicles are completely self-propelled with their own internal power. Others can supplement internal power using renewable energy system like solar panels. Finally, some vehicles use wind and/or wave action for propulsion. The vehicles host a suite of onboard sensors to measure a variety of oceanographic and atmospheric variables including salinity, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, wind speed, wind direction, and barometric pressure. Whenever possible, real-time data summaries can be sent via satellite link, while a complete, high-resolution data set is available for download upon the vehicle’s retrieval.

Active and passive acoustic instruments are a typical component of an ASV’s sensor payload. Subsurface currents can be measured by onboard acoustic doppler current profilers. Single and multibeam transducers can be used to determine bathymetry, bottom type, as well as boundary layers in the water column. ASVs equipped with acoustic sensors can also be used to detect bubbling gas seeps on the seafloor[1]Scoulding, B., Kloser, R., & Gastauer, S. (2020). Evaluation of unmanned surface vehicle acoustics for gas seep detection in shallow coastal waters. International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control, 102, 103158. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijggc.2020.103158..

Many scientists use ASVs to acoustically observe and monitor marine animals. ASVs can be equipped with acoustic fish-tag receivers to create a low-cost mobile, hydroacoustic array, enhancing acoustic fish telemetry efforts. ASVs with towed and/or integrated echosounders have also been used to determine the distribution and biomass of fishes such as hake, walleye pollock, anchovies, and sardines[2]Cornell University, Greene, C., Meyer-Gutbrod, E., McGarry, L., Hufnagle, L., Chu, D., McClatchie, S., Packer, A., Jung, J.-B., Acker, T., Dorn, H., & Pelkie, C. (2014). A Wave Glider Approach to Fisheries Acoustics: Transforming How We Monitor the Nation’s Commercial Fisheries in the 21st Century. Oceanography, 27(4). https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.82.[3]Swart, S., Zietsman, J., Coetzee, J., Goslett, D., Hoek, A., Needham, D., & Monteiro, P. (2016). Ocean robotics in support of fisheries research and management. African Journal of Marine Science, 38(4), 525–538. https://doi.org/10.2989/1814232X.2016.1251971.[4]Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, University of Washington (JISAO-UW), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Mordy, C., Cokelet, E., De Robertis, A., Jenkins, R., Kuhn, C., Lawrence-Slavas, N., Berchok, C., Crance, J., Sterling, J., Cross, J., Stabeno, P., Meinig, C., Tabisola, H., Burgess, W., & Wangen, I. (2017). Advances in Ecosystem Research: Saildrone Surveys of Oceanography, Fish, and Marine Mammals in the Bering Sea. Oceanography, 30(2). https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2017.230.. Mapping and counting fish schools with ASVs can improve the spatial and temporal coverage of acoustic stock assessment surveys and complement traditional ship-based monitoring.

Sail and survey tracks (blue, green, and pink lines) for three ASVs that left Alameda, CA, in mid-May 2020, sailed 2,200 nautical miles to the Bering Sea, completed a fisheries survey for Alaska pollock from July – August 2020 (rectangular transects off Alaska), and then sailed back to California, arriving in mid-October. Figure: NOAA Fisheries.

ASVs were used to fill stock assessment data gaps associated with the cancellations of ship-based surveys due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. From July 4 to August 20, 2020, in an area normally covered by standard research vessels, three ASVs collected acoustic data to estimate the abundance of commercially important Alaska pollock (walleye pollock). The vehicles also collected oceanographic and atmospheric information for weather forecasting.

ASV’s have been used for mobile passive acoustic monitoring. For example, ASVs have monitored courtship sounds associated with fish spawning aggregations, providing key data critical to understanding the population dynamics of fishes such as red hind[5] Chérubin, L. M., Dalgleish, F., Ibrahim, A. K., Schärer-Umpierre, M., Nemeth, R. S., Matthews, A., & Appeldoorn, R. (2020). Fish spawning aggregations dynamics as inferred from a novel, persistent presence robotic approach. Frontiers in Marine Science, 6, 779. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2019.00779..

ASV passive acoustics can detect marine mammal presence and monitor marine mammal habitat.  A surface vehicle towing a hydrophone package detected odontocete whistles, echolocation clicks, and burst pulsed sounds as well as lower frequency tonal signals thought to be Bryde’s whale calls in offshore waters of Brazil[6]Bittencourt, L., Soares-Filho, W., de Lima, I. M. S., Pai, S., Lailson-Brito, J., Barreira, L. M., Azevedo, A. F., & Guerra, L. A. A. (2018). Mapping cetacean sounds using a passive acoustic monitoring system towed by an autonomous Wave Glider in the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean. Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, 142, 58–68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr.2018.10.006..

Passive and active acoustic systems can be used simultaneously on ASVs to study relationships between marine predators, their prey, and the environment. In one study looking at fish and marine mammals in the Bering Sea, Alaska, surface vehicles used passive acoustics to listen for vocalizations of marine mammals, and active acoustics to quantify spatial distributions of fishes.

Researchers have used ASVs to supplement data collected by satellite tagged animals. In one study,  while satellite-tagged northern fur seals were foraging, ASVs continuously collected data on the location, depth, and size of Alaska pollock in an area that overlapped with the range of the tagged animals. A seal’s tag transmitted its location data directly to an ASV, allowing the surface drone to follow the animal’s route. The ASV would then follow the seal for approximately 2 days while also collecting oceanographic and prey data[7]Kuhn, C., De Robertis, A., Sterling, J., Mordy, C., Meinig, C., Lawrence-Slavas, N., Cokelet, E., Levine, M., Tabisola, H., Jenkins, R., Peacock, D., & Vo, D. (2020). Test of unmanned surface vehicles to conduct remote focal follow studies of a marine predator. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 635, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13224..

Additional Links on DOSITS

Additional Resources

References

  • Berger, J., Laske, G., Babcock, J., & Orcutt, J. (2016). An ocean bottom seismic observatory with near real‐time telemetry. Earth and Space Science, 3(2), 68–77. https://doi.org/10.1002/2015EA000137.
  • Bingham, B., Kraus, N., Howe, B., Freitag, L., Ball, K., Koski, P., & Gallimore, E. (2012). Passive and active acoustics using an autonomous wave glider: Passive and Active Acoustics Using an Autonomous Wave Glider. Journal of Field Robotics, 29(6), 911–923. https://doi.org/10.1002/rob.21424.
  • Daniel, T., Manley, J., & Trenaman, N. (2011). The Wave Glider: Enabling a new approach to persistent ocean observation and research. Ocean Dynamics, 61(10), 1509–1520. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10236-011-0408-5.
  • Verfuss, U. K., Aniceto, A. S., Harris, D. V., Gillespie, D., Fielding, S., Jiménez, G., Johnston, P., Sinclair, R. R., Sivertsen, A., Solbø, S. A., Storvold, R., Biuw, M., & Wyatt, R. (2019). A review of unmanned vehicles for the detection and monitoring of marine fauna. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 140, 17–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2019.01.009.

Cited References

1 Scoulding, B., Kloser, R., & Gastauer, S. (2020). Evaluation of unmanned surface vehicle acoustics for gas seep detection in shallow coastal waters. International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control, 102, 103158. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijggc.2020.103158.
2 Cornell University, Greene, C., Meyer-Gutbrod, E., McGarry, L., Hufnagle, L., Chu, D., McClatchie, S., Packer, A., Jung, J.-B., Acker, T., Dorn, H., & Pelkie, C. (2014). A Wave Glider Approach to Fisheries Acoustics: Transforming How We Monitor the Nation’s Commercial Fisheries in the 21st Century. Oceanography, 27(4). https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.82.
3 Swart, S., Zietsman, J., Coetzee, J., Goslett, D., Hoek, A., Needham, D., & Monteiro, P. (2016). Ocean robotics in support of fisheries research and management. African Journal of Marine Science, 38(4), 525–538. https://doi.org/10.2989/1814232X.2016.1251971.
4 Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, University of Washington (JISAO-UW), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Mordy, C., Cokelet, E., De Robertis, A., Jenkins, R., Kuhn, C., Lawrence-Slavas, N., Berchok, C., Crance, J., Sterling, J., Cross, J., Stabeno, P., Meinig, C., Tabisola, H., Burgess, W., & Wangen, I. (2017). Advances in Ecosystem Research: Saildrone Surveys of Oceanography, Fish, and Marine Mammals in the Bering Sea. Oceanography, 30(2). https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2017.230.
5 Chérubin, L. M., Dalgleish, F., Ibrahim, A. K., Schärer-Umpierre, M., Nemeth, R. S., Matthews, A., & Appeldoorn, R. (2020). Fish spawning aggregations dynamics as inferred from a novel, persistent presence robotic approach. Frontiers in Marine Science, 6, 779. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2019.00779.
6 Bittencourt, L., Soares-Filho, W., de Lima, I. M. S., Pai, S., Lailson-Brito, J., Barreira, L. M., Azevedo, A. F., & Guerra, L. A. A. (2018). Mapping cetacean sounds using a passive acoustic monitoring system towed by an autonomous Wave Glider in the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean. Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers, 142, 58–68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr.2018.10.006.
7 Kuhn, C., De Robertis, A., Sterling, J., Mordy, C., Meinig, C., Lawrence-Slavas, N., Cokelet, E., Levine, M., Tabisola, H., Jenkins, R., Peacock, D., & Vo, D. (2020). Test of unmanned surface vehicles to conduct remote focal follow studies of a marine predator. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 635, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13224.