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Researchers use drones to find worrying news in ocean

A research vessel tasked with studying the ocean’s surface, has successfully used drones and other autonomous vehicles to discover new dangers to human and sea life.

The Schmidt Ocean Institute vessel, aptly named Falkor, returned to port yesterday after successfully deploying 17 sampling stations to various parts of the world’s oceans.

“The sea-surface microlayer plays a vital role in the uptake and release of greenhouse gases, including methane and carbon dioxide via the ocean,” said chief scientist from the University of Oldenburg, Oliver Wurl.

“Even the latest models ignore what happens at the sea surface, we hope this research will change that helping to inform computer models to improve forecasts of climate change.”

Beyond these sampling stations, the researchers also used autonomous vehicles such as drones, remote control catamarans and kayaks — fitted with sensors as thin as human hair, as well as cameras. The researchers set out on their journey over a month ago in hopes of understanding how the ocean affects climate change.

“It has been almost six years since the design of the instruments began,” said co-chief scientist from the Lamont-Doherty Observatory of Columbia University, Christopher Zappa.

“The vehicles and instrument payloads performed how they were supposed to, allowing us to gather some very interesting data of the ocean’s surface in high resolution.”

The Schmidt Ocean Institute used remote control kayaks and drones to better understand the ocean’s surface life

These cameras measured the water’s phytoplankton as well as the oceans’ colour and the surface skin temperature and net energy of the ocean’s surface. Additionally, toxic bacteria in the form of a cyanobacteria bloom was also discovered.

This bacteria’s presence threatens microscopic marine life by using oxygen — effectively the sea’s building blocks for life.

The instruments were also deployed to explore trace metals as well as greenhouse gases including wind and wave effects on air-sea transfer and microbial communities.

Bill Landing, co-chief scientist from Florida State University, explained that the ambitious use of drones and other remote control technologies was problematic.

“This is no easy feat with over 400 water samples.This data set is the first of its kind, incorporating data from many disciplines.”

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