Tag: electric glider

Antarctic Storm Moves In

Our streak of excellent weather has officially come to an end with a large low pressure system in the Drake Passage.

Storm moves into Palmer Station

The weather was even tough tough for the ever-working “birders” who were going to deploy a few satellite tags on penguins today. REMUS missions are cancelled for the day. That might be good since one sprung a leak on a mission yesterday. Only the gliders are out….which makes gliders an awesome platform for ocean science when the weather gets a bit “snotty”. They don’t complain and don’t get sea-sick. The “Blue-Hen” continues is mission mapping the foraging locations of penguins when even the penguins are too scared to go out! That means I get to stay home and peel garlic (very necessary for all the amazing food here).

Garlic….it’s like the best thing you can eat when it is windy

Saturday is also the day we all clean the station and have a station meeting. I got to help clean the kitchen today. That was really nice because I totally miss cleaning the kitchen at home (no, not really). We also learned that hiking on the Gamage glacier behind the station is more restricted after a new crevasse opened up. Funny story about that…..Mark Moline found it by falling into the crack. He was fine, but it was a bit un-nerving. The GSAR (Glacial Search and Rescue) team changed the boundaries after they went and uncovered the full extent of “Mark’s Crack”.

The bad weather lets us do a bit of data analysis on where the penguins are foraging. The penguins seem to be keying off of the deep canyon off of Palmer station. This has been a working hypothesis from the “birders”

Finally, I’ll leave you with an awesome moon-rise over the Gamage Glacier. Pretty awesome sight.

Moonrise over Gamage Glacier

Penguins, AUV’s, Satellites: together at last

Adélie Penguin Rookery

Adélie Penguin Rookery on Humble Island

Satellite tagged Adelie Penguin

Satellite tagged Adelie Penguin

Penguin swimming tracks near Palmer Station

Penguin swimming tracks near Palmer Station

Ballasting the Glider (Blue Hen)

Ballasting the Glider (Blue Hen)

Is it possible to follow penguins from space to understand where and how they are feeding in Antarctica? Absolutely!..but not without an excellent team from University of Delaware, Rutgers University, Polar Oceans Research Group, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The sequence starts with the “Birders”. The “Birders” are from Polar Ocean Research and they have been studying penguins in the West Antarctic Peninsula for years. The “Birders”, headed by Bill and Donna Fraser, head out to local rookeries to identify good penguins to tag with satellite transmitters. Finding the right breeding pair is key. The pair should have two chicks with both parents still around. Some chicks only have one parent, probably because one parent was killed by a Leopard Seal. We want to choose one of the parents, because we are pretty certain they will return to their chicks to feed them. This also helps in recovering the transmitter. If the bird does not return, the transmitter comes off during their natural annual molt cycle. Once a penguin is selected, it is gently fitted with a satellite transmitter. Special waterproof tape is used to connect the transmitter to the thick feathers on the back of the penguin. The penguins are remarkably calm during the process.  Once the tag is attached, the penguin is released back to its nest. The next part of the sequence is for the birds. The penguins head out to feed on krill and small fish in the area. Their tags relay their position information to ARGOS satellites and we get nightly updates. The Birders pass on their data to me nightly, and I filter and map the penguin tracks. I put them into Google Earth, so we can see where the penguins have been feeding. Then, through the magic of mathematics, we turn their tracks into predicted penguin densities. Based on these densities, we plan our AUV missions to intersect with the feeding penguins (Slocum Electric Gliders and REMUS AUV’s).  The first priority is to make sure the AUV’s are ballasted correctly. This means that they need to be trimmed with weights just right so they travel correctly under the water. We use small balances and scales to get the weight of the vehicle just right, then put them into ballasting tanks to make sure we did it correctly. The vehicles should hold steady just under the surface of the water.

Getting ready for the launch of the "Blue Hen"

Getting ready for the launch of the "Blue Hen" (M. Oliver and K. Coleman)

Once we have a planned mission, we head out in small zodiacs from the station to a pre-determined point. For the Gliders, we call mission control at Rutgers University (Dave, Chip, John) and let them know a glider will be in the water shortly. Once it is in, control of the glider is accomplished via satellite telephone directly to the glider. The glider calls in and reports data and position to mission control. We can see the data coming in live over the web, and in Google Earth as we navigate the vehicle to where the penguins are feeding. The gliders move by changing their ballast, which allows them to glide up and down in the water while their wings give them forward momentum. They “fly” about 0.5mph for weeks at a time!

Mark Moline with REMUS's

Mark Moline with REMUS's

In contrast to the Gliders, the REMUS vehicles are very fast and are designed for shorter, 1 day missions. Daily missions are planned around the penguin foraging locations. The Cal Poly Group (Mark Moline and Ian Robbins) have been launching 2 Remus Vehicles per day to map areas the gliders can’t get too. Like the gliders, these vehicles call back via iridium to let us know how they are doing in their mission.

MODIS Chlorophyll, Penguins, and Gliders

Glider Dances around Adélie Penguin Tracks in a sea of chlorophyll

Finally, we are getting satellite support from my lab at U.D. Erick, Megan and Danielle have been processing temperature and chlorophyll maps in near-real time to support our sampling efforts, as well as AUV operations up and down the West Antarctic Peninsula. Just today, we saw that the penguins in Avian Island (south by a few hundred miles) have been keying off of a chlorophyll front. RU05 was deployed by the L. M. Gould and will be recovered soon. All in all, it is a pretty awesome mission to track these penguins from space and AUV’s. We will see how the season develops!

Note: I will be uploading photos and videos to the ORB Lab Facebook page throughout my stay in Antarctica. Be sure to check there for my latest updates.

Penguins from Space


The West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth, with a 6°C temperature rise since 1950.  Glaciers are retreating and the duration and extent of sea ice has significantly decreased. Many species rely on the sea ice as a resting platform, breeding ground, protective barrier or have life histories linked to sea ice thaw and melt cycles. With the declines in sea ice, many species are having a difficult time surviving and adapting to the new warming conditions.

The food web along the WAP is short and allows energy to be transferred efficiently. Phytoplankton (tiny plants that capture energy from the sun) are ingested by zooplankton (such as krill) which are in turn eaten by penguins, seals and whales. Due to the rapid nature of the warming around Palmer Station and the short food chain, it is an ideal location to study the effects of the acute changes in a warming environment.

Palmer Station, Antarctica

In particular, Adélie penguins are experiencing significant population declines near Palmer Station, Antarctica.  On Anvers Island, populations have decreased by 70%. Declines in sea ice have also led to declines in the preferred food of Adélies.  Silverfish have nearly disappeared and krill have decreased by 80%. Currently, Adélies are having a difficult time finding a satisfying meal. In turn, many species are migrating southward to look for new places to live and better food resources. On the other hand, ice-avoiding species (Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins) have been able to move south into the Adélies home range.

Adélies are a prime vertebrate species to study in relation to a changing environment.  Tagging Adélies in summer breeding colonies with satellite-linked transmitters, allow foraging locations to be monitored. Their foraging tracks can be compared to satellite derived oceanic properties such as sea surface temperature, chlorophyll, sea-ice, and wind. Since conditions have changed so quickly over the last few decades, the recent development of satellites can easily detect these changes. The UD-134 Slocum Glider (underwater robot) will be deployed in January 2011 and 2012, to do additional surveys near breeding hotspots.  This will allow us to combine satellite data with high resolution in-situ glider data to predict how ideal foraging locations for Adélies may change as warming continues. This will also test the satellites ability to accurately describe ecological changes that are occurring along the WAP.

Adélie Penguin

The Palmer Long Term Ecological Research Program (PAL LTER) began in 1990, and investigates aspects of this polar environment while maintaining historical records for marine species.  Historical satellite data and species records will be useful in predicting phytoplankton, krill and penguin abundances and distributions.  Models will be used to predict future foraging locations of Adélies in PAL LTER region of the WAP. It is important to study this region because changes are happening faster than predicted and these changes can lead to dramatic effects in our lifetimes.

Wicked Cool Slocum Electric Glider 101

Last week we had just received the UD-134 glider (aka the “Blue Hen”) from two tours of duty in the Gulf of Mexico in collaboration with IOOS and Rutgers University for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Response project.  To prepare for an upcoming Antarctic mission, we needed to get some work done on UD-134 at the source – Teledyne Webb Research in Massachusetts. Since we were only five hours south of Webb at the time, I loaded the Zune HD (with purely educational podcasts of course – in this case Security Now) and it was road-trip time for me and two of the students from the ORB lab.

The students who went with were really excited to get to learn from the masters while we tore down UD-134 at Rutgers. (For those new to gliders, Rutgers is the undisputed kings of the glider realm, they’ve been flying them since, like forever). One of the students who came with was a summer intern who was charged with learning how to pilot the Glider over the summer. Because of the last-minute deployment of UD-134 in the Gulf, he had lots of pilotting time on a simulator, but not so much hands-on with real Gliders. The other student was a new grad student who would be responsible for ingesting and processing glider data, so she was looking forward to the trip as well.  When we decided at the last minute to head up to Webb Research to deliver the components, the intern said he “felt like Willie Wonka with the winning ticket to tour the chocolate factory”. He was definitely not disappointed as Peter Collins met us at the doors of Webb and gave the students and I the grand tour.

Peter Collins (aka “Texas Pete” for this post) donned his cowboy hard hat and headed to the ballast tank with me and a couple of our students last week to do a quick talk for Ocean Bytes.  Pete gave a quick introduction to the Slocum Electric Glider – an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) or Underwater Glider that is made by Teledyne Webb Research. Take note that the glider that Pete has in front of him as it is a tad different from most in that it has two science bays (there is usually only one). This one is being fitted with a Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) sensor and a FIRe sensor  (remember Lauren’s video?) from Satlantic. I’ll hand you to Peter now so he can discuss what a glider is for and how it works…

In addition to the lineup of first generation gliders, we were introduced to the second generation gliders that are just now being manufactured – also called the “G2” gliders.  I’ll try to cover everything that we learned about the G2 systems in a future post.

Thanks again Peter for the awesome hospitality and for taking such great care of us!

Note: Getting lots of inquiries as to where one might obtain “Cowboy Hard Hats” – Peter provided a couple of links to possible suppliers – Link 1 and Link 2.

© 2017 Ocean Bytes Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑