2019 Antarctic Circumnavigation

196 days collecting critical climate data in the Southern Ocean

A Scientific Voyage of Global Significance

Saildrone USVs provide an unprecedented opportunity to learn about distant marine environments. Powered by wind and solar energy and equipped with an array of instruments to monitor ocean and atmospheric conditions, three saildrones departed New Zealand on an epic voyage: the first-ever autonomous circumnavigation of Antarctica, with the generous support of the Li Ka Shing Foundation.

The first vehicle, known as SD 1020, departed Bluff, New Zealand, on January 19, 2019. SD 1022 and SD 1023 were launched on May 9, 2019.

Scientists from around the globe provided inputs into the mission plan as the saildrones explored the Southern Ocean’s diverse ecosystem, studying topics ranging from krill abundance and penguin behavior to carbon fluxes and ocean acidification.

After 196 days at sea, the first of the three saildrones, SD 1020, successfully completed the first autonomous circumnavigation of Antarctica!

Saildrone data collected in Antarctica

Bringing Antarctica to the Classroom

Teachers can access a series of STEM-oriented lesson plans inspired by the 2019 Antarctic Circumnavigation and developed by the 1851 Trust, a UK-based education charity committed to inspiring young people to become future innovators and environmental stewards. The curriculum is offered free of charge to teachers around the world for use in their classrooms, along with the interactive mission map and weekly blog posts. 

A Global Scientific Collaboration

Saildrone collaborated with scientific experts from around the globe to guide the vehicles along the way and address some of the key scientific objectives listed below.

Surveying krill abundance

Saildrones collected krill abundance data using their echo sounders to investigate the pressures krill face from a changing environment.

Tracking tagged animals

Saildrones characterized areas where tagged penguins and seals feed to study the relationship between predators and prey.

Measuring CO2

Saildrones measured the rate of CO2 absorption and/or emission by the Southern Ocean with scientific precision.

Quantifying ecosystems

Saildrones used their full suite of metocean sensors to collect valuable data for weather forecasting and ecosystem modeling.


Saildrone Logbook

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SD 1023 was one of three saildrones deployed as part of the 2019 Antarctic Circumnavigation that sought new scientific insights in the Southern Ocean.

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Explore the Southern Ocean with your kids—these fun and engaging STEM-oriented lesson plans discuss the incredible aspects of the Antarctic ecosystem and how it affects the rest of the planet. Download for free!

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SD 1020 survived freezing temperatures, 15-meter waves, 130 km/h winds, and collisions with giant icebergs to complete the 22,000-kilometer mission in 196 days.

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