Photo by Teledyne Marine
First published in our newsletter on Feb. 11, 2021
This month, with GLOS support, the Real-time Aquatic Environmental Research Network (RAEON), added a member to their staff to help establish an emerging underwater glider program.
Cailin Burmaster, formerly of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was brought on to oversee missions, pilot gliders, and to help manage the huge amount of data collected by these submersible sensor systems.
In 2019, RAEON added four of Teledyne Marine’s Slocum autonomous underwater gliders to their stock of monitoring equipment. And in 2020 they ran their first glider mission in collaboration with the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR) and with help from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
This year, all four gliders will be in Lake Erie and other Great Lakes measuring turbidity, chlorophyll, phycocyanin, dissolved oxygen, and more to study harmful algal blooms (HABs) and a correlated harmful phenomenon called “hypoxia,” which occurs when water becomes depleted of oxygen. HABs and hypoxia can have a negative impact on fisheries and have even affected drinking water supplies in places like Essex County, Ontario and in Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio.
The torpedo-like Slocum gliders “fly” through the water at low speeds for months at a time, taking measurements over massive distances—sometimes well over 1000 kilometers (621 miles). Gliders glide through the water in a sawtooth pattern, angling down toward the lakefloor by decreasing the buoyancy of the nose cone, and then increasing the buoyancy to angle back up towards the surface. Originally developed for ocean observing, these gliders are typically allowed to dive down hundreds of meters before needing to turn back toward the surface. But Cailin says that with some calibration, the gliders can be tweaked to work even in the shallow conditions of Lake Erie—just over 64 meters (210 feet) at its deepest.
A technician with the U.S. Geological Survey adjusts the glider prior to launching it into Lake Erie in 2020. Photo by Katelynn Johnson
Once programmed with a mission, the gliders can operate mostly on their own.
“In theory, you could just deploy the gliders and let them go,” Cailin says. But conditions are not always predictable, so the gliders need to be monitored and adjusted to ensure sensors are operational and the glider is on its course.
The worst-case scenario? That would be losing communication with a glider that’s unable to surface, according to Katelynn Johnson, RAEON’s Research and Operations Director. If communications are gone, often the only thing left to do is to hope the device washes up on a beach or is reported by a boater. But losing contact permanently is unlikely thanks to the glider’s built-in safety features, like lakefloor-detection, and when in the hands of Teledyne-trained pilots like Cailin, who has spent hundreds of hours on glider missions.
Soon, Canadian researchers will be able to rent the gliders and Cailin’s expertise to augment their own projects via RAEON.
Based at the University of Windsor and funded by both the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund, RAEON is something of a candy shop for Great Lakes researchers in Canada. They provide buoys, boats, and cutting-edge remote sensing technologies, along with the accompanying infrastructure, staff, and data management.
Last year, in an effort to continue expanding the regional capacity for glider-based monitoring, GLOS stepped in to help fund a glider position at RAEON. With one more technician working alongside existing partners to keep missions going, the short-term hope is for an even clearer picture of how harmful algal blooms come to life and change throughout the lake, informing future decisions for researchers, water treatment professionals, and natural resource managers, as well as the general public.
Katelynn says that their glider program is being established from the beginning with the intention of strong, bi-national collaboration, with projects already in the works for an informal Great Lakes glider group including Jay Austin’s lab at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, CIGLR, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Future joint missions will also include helping to monitor all five lakes, one by one, as part of the Cooperative Sciences Monitoring Initiative (CSMI).
Cailin can be reached at email@example.com.
(Above, left to right) To launch, researchers angle the glider’s dolly off the side of the boat and slowly slide the glider into the water. (Right) The crew uses a long pole to steer the glider toward the boat to retrieve it after it has completed its mission. Photos by Katelynn Johnson
More on gliders: Most years, these gliders are crisscrossing the lakes, undetected by almost everyone. See the long journey of one glider across Lake Superior from a 2016 mission here. See CIGLR staff Russ and Hayden unbox a Slocum G3 glider below: