On January 19, a small fleet of Saildrone unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) were launched from Bluff, New Zealand, on the southern tip the South Island. Their destination: The Southern Ocean. The 2019 Saildrone Antarctic Circumnavigation, sponsored by the Li Ka Shing Foundation, is our most ambitious mission to date: 15,000 nautical miles, 270 days, in the harshest ocean environment on the planet.
The mission endeavors to expose future generations to the rapid changes taking place in the Antarctic. This education outreach initiative uses cutting-edge Saildrone technology to bring data-driven lessons to classrooms around the world. Saildrone and the 1851 Trust, a UK-based education charity that teaches young people about science, technology, and engineering through sailing, have partnered to develop a series of STEM-oriented lesson plans, available to teachers free of charge.
The Antarctic remains one of the planet's least explored regions because of its severe conditions and the high cost of exploration. The saildrones will attempt to sail through areas rarely visited by vessels, and therefore scientists don't normally have the means to collect essential data related to the marine ecosystem and the global climate.
The saildrones are equipped with a payload of scientific instruments designed to collect data for a variety of scientific objectives including the abundance of krill and the direct and indirect relationships between marine predators and prey, CO2 uptake and ocean acidification, and meteorological observations.
“The Southern Ocean uniquely connects all of the world’s key oceans. It is an area of very high scientific interest“ says Richard Jenkins, Saildrone’s CEO. “The unforgivingly harsh conditions that prevail year-round make human exploration and observations difficult, dangerous and very expensive, necessitating large ice-rated ships. By attempting this autonomous circumnavigation, the first of its kind, in partnership with leading scientists from around the globe, we hope to pave the foundation for a new type of observing system to quantify this important part of our planet”.
The Saildrone Antarctic Circumnavigation presents a unique opportunity to collaborate with scientists and researchers from a variety of institutions and organizations including CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Palmer Long Term Ecological Research, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS), the University of Gothenburg, and the Department of Marine Science, University of Otago.