Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.
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36 unmanned systems inside December 2016/January 2017 MARINE RESEARCH A new autonomous underwater vehicle could help scientists slash research costs by doubling their sample-taking capacity. by Dee Ann Divis "SO YOU ARE RESTRICTED, in sampling, to one operation time. Clio is really designed to circumvent that bottleneck." Mak Saito, tenured associate scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Photos and rendering courtesy of Wood Hole Oceanographic Institution/Photo by C. A. Linder A new autonomous marine sampler could improve scientists' under- standing of the oceans' biological underpinnings by slashing the manpower and funding needed to do broad biogeochemical surveys. Clio, a vehicle developed at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), drops to the ocean floor after being lowered over the side of a survey ship. Then working autonomously, it rises through the water column, taking samples at predetermined depths. Each roughly 14-hour journey to the surface takes samples at the same depths, enabling the mapping of biological el- ements like DNA, RNA, proteins, enzymes, lipids, metabolites and metals associated with marine microorganisms. "The hope is to have a vehicle that we can really use for large-scale ocean surveying and research—studying all kinds of biogeochemi- cal and microbial processes," said Mak Saito, a tenured associate scientist at WHOI. Microbes are the foundation of the ocean's nutritional web, Saito explained. "You need the algae, which are microbial communities, to grow and then work up the food chain to eventually have fisheries." Saito envisions a survey that would be the biological counterpart to the long-running GEOTRACES study of the trace elements and isotopes in the ocean associated with marine biogeochemical cycles. Double Dipping "GEOTRACES is really a chemical survey program that's focusing on a lot of really dif- ficult-to-measure metals and micronutrients," Saito told Inside Unmanned Systems. The goal, he said, is to move "from the purely inor- ganic to now looking inside the organisms and seeing what they are doing and who they are and how they are responding to their chemical environments." Doing such research, however, is particu- larly expensive. Research ships cost tens of thousands of dollars per day to operate, Saito explained, and the sampling is usually done, slowly, via a single wire. "Currently we have to put pumps on the line and collect samples—or even bring water up from 1,000 m down or 2,000 m down," he said. "All this water comes up and then you carry the water over to filtration machines and you filter it all—that can take hours. It's a lot of work." If you run more than one wire at a time you run the risk that the ship will turn and the lines get tangled. "So you are restricted, in sampling, to one operation at a time," Saito said. "Clio is really designed to circumvent that bottleneck." Scientists will be able to lower Clio into the water and have it perform its survey while concurrently taking a separate set of samples using the wire system—all without fear of en- tanglement. This will enable researchers to, for expanding research horizons by boosting sample collection