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Autonomous vessels map the Norwegian Sea

ABOVE: A small autonomous vessel collects data from the North Sea.

 

by Kjell Undall

ConocoPhillips is supporting a collaborative project — using small autonomous vessels to collect data from large sea areas — involving research communities, the maritime industry and the Research Council of Norway.

Using three unmanned, autonomous vessels called gliders that can collect large amounts of information traditionally obtained on costly expeditions using large research vessels, a team spent part of the summer this year collecting environmental data from the Norwegian Sea west of Nordland County in northern Norway. Gliders followed GPS-based routes on the sea surface and in the water column.

Lindefjeld headshot
Ole Lindefjeld

The gliders are equipped with sensors and equipment for acquisition of chemical, physical and biological oceanic and atmospheric data. The sensors provide continuous measurements of weather, waves, currents, temperature, salinity, oxygen, carbon dioxide, pH, ocean acidification, marine algae, animal plankton, fish fry (young fish capable of feeding themselves) and marine mammals.

“Our interest in the project is linked to the need for thorough environmental surveys related to potential activity in vulnerable areas of the ocean,” said Ole Lindefjeld, manager of Research & Development for ConocoPhillips Norway. “We see considerable potential for these seagoing vessels and have therefore included the project in our research portfolio.”


“There is a huge market for the use of this technology which, com­bined with a knowledge of oceanogra­phy and biology, helps us make optimal use of the sea’s resources and effectively manage our maritime industries.”

Salve Dahle


The vessels collected data in the ocean west of Sandnessjøen and Bodø (in northern Norway) during August and September of 2017 and will be operating at sea again in 2018 between March and October.

Gliders are the size of a surfboard and follow preprogrammed routes and depths, collecting data that is stored on board or sent via satellite to the base station onshore, where the vessels are monitored by the project’s manager, research institute Akvaplan-niva. During the summer of 2017, the gliders traveled a total of 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles).

Three types of gliders have been used, each with somewhat different characteristics. Two travel on the ocean surface, one using wind propulsion and the other using wave action. The third utilizes balance and buoyancy below the water surface, making it possible to collect data from deep as 1,000 meters (3,280 feet).

“We find it very interesting to take part in this project. There is a huge market for the use of this technology which, combined with a knowledge of oceanography and biology, helps us make optimal use of the sea’s resources and effectively manage our maritime industries,” said Salve Dahle, managing director of Akvaplan-niva.