CSIRO has partnered with ocean technology start-up, Saildrone, to improve measurement and monitoring in Australian waters and the Southern Ocean.

The five-year research partnership between Saildrone and CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere group will see the deployment of high tech unmanned ocean monitoring vehicles, Saildrones, for the first time in Australian waters.

The experts hope to extend their network of marine and climate monitoring systems around Australia, collecting more information about sea-surface temperature, salinity, and ocean carbon, and providing a platform for continued development of the next generation of marine and climate technologies.

Saildrones are solar and wind powered autonomous vehicles that can be at sea for up to 12 months at a time, working around the clock to assist in everything from animal stock assessments (using subsurface sensors) to helping respond to marine emergencies.

They can be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world and are equipped with both automatic identification systems (AIS) and ship avoidance systems to alert and avoid other ocean users.

“Saildrones are long-range research platforms that can be sent to remote locations for an extended period of time, delivering real-time data back to scientists that was previously impossible to collect,” says CSIRO Research Group Leader Andreas Marouchos.

“The devices gather fundamental information about our oceans and climate using a powerhouse of ocean chemistry, meteorological and marine acoustic sensors.

“CSIRO is at the forefront of advances in marine engineering and technology, with a demonstrated track record in providing new tools and methods for world-class oceans research.”

“Autonomy is a key technology for accessing the southern oceans, which are understudied due to the rough seas and the limited number of vessels that regularly pass through the region,” says Australian Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins.

The collaboration will begin with equipping the vehicles with specialised sensors designed to measure ocean carbon, as well as provide biomass estimates in the water column, added to the existing suite of marine and atmospheric sensors.

The ability to remotely control the Saildrones means they can be re-tasked quickly to meet CSIRO’s science needs, providing a new way to measure ocean conditions associated with events like marine heat waves or toxic algal blooms that in the past would have required extensive planning and expense for a ship and crew.

Existing versions of the sea-going drones can be seen in action, below.