Scientific Papers

The impact and quality of Saildrone’s data has been featured in numerous scientific papers. Saildrone has demonstrated the highest possible levels of data quality, which has established scientific confidence in our measurements and sampling protocols. You can review some of the science publications below.

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Validation of NASA Sea Surface Temperature Satellite Products Using Saildrone Data

Sea Surface Temperature (SST) is at the core of many processes in the oceans. Various remote sensing platforms have been used to obtain SST products of different scales, but their validation remains a topic of ongoing research. One promising platform is an uncrewed surface vehicle called Saildrone. We use the data from eight Saildrone deployments of the USA West Coast 2019 campaign to validate MODIS level-2 and Multi-scale Ultra-high Resolution (MUR) level-4 satellite SST products at 1km spatial resolution and to assess the robustness of the quality levels of MODIS level-2 products over the California Coast. Pixel-based SST comparisons between Saildrone and the satellite products were performed, as well as thermal gradient comparisons computed both at the pixel-base level and using kriging interpolation. The results generally showed better accuracies for the MUR products. The characterization of the MODIS quality level proved to be valid in areas covered by bad-quality MODIS pixels but less valid in areas covered by lower-quality pixels. The latter implies possible errors in the MODIS quality level characterization and MUR interpolation processes. We have demonstrated the ability of the Saildrones to accurately validate near-shore satellite SST products and provide important information for the quality assessment of satellite products.

Koutantou, Kalliopi, Philip Brunner, and Jorge Vazquez-Cuervo, "Validation of NASA Sea Surface Temperature Satellite Products Using Saildrone Data," in Remote Sensing, vol 15, 2023, no. 9: 2277.


Using Saildrones to Validate Satellite-Derived Sea Surface Salinity and Sea Surface Temperature along the California/Baja Coast

Abstract: Traditional ways of validating satellite-derived sea surface temperature (SST) and sea surface salinity (SSS) products by comparing with buoy measurements, do not allow for evaluating the impact of mesoscale-to-submesoscale variability. We present the validation of remotely sensed SST and SSS data against the unmanned surface vehicle (USV)—called Saildrone—measurements from the 60 day 2018 Baja California campaign. More specifically, biases and root mean square differences (RMSDs) were calculated between USV-derived SST and SSS values, and six satellite-derived SST (MUR, OSTIA, CMC, K10, REMSS, and DMI) and three SSS (JPLSMAP, RSS40, RSS70) products. Biases between the USV SST and OSTIA/CMC/DMI were approximately zero, while MUR showed a bias of 0.3 ◦C. The OSTIA showed the smallest RMSD of 0.39 ◦C, while DMI had the largest RMSD of 0.5 ◦C. An RMSD of 0.4 ◦C between Saildrone SST and the satellite-derived products could be explained by the diurnal and sub-daily variability in USV SST, which currently cannot be resolved by remote sensing measurements. SSS showed fresh biases of 0.1 PSU for JPLSMAP and 0.2 PSU and 0.3 PSU for RMSS40 and RSS70 respectively. SST and SSS showed peaks in coherence at 100 km, most likely associated with the variability of the California Current System.

Vazquez-Cuervo, J.; Gomez-Valdes, J.; Bouali, M.; Miranda, L.E.; Van der Stocken, T.; Tang, W.; Gentemann, C. "Using Saildrones to Validate Satellite-Derived Sea Surface Salinity and Sea Surface Temperature along the California/Baja Coast." Remote Sens. 2019, 11, 1964.


Validating Salinity from SMAP and HYCOM Data with Saildrone Data during EUREC4A-OA/ATOMIC

The 2020 ‘Elucidating the role of clouds-circulation coupling in climate-Ocean-Atmosphere’ (EUREC4A-OA) and the ‘Atlantic Tradewind Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Interaction Campaign’ (ATOMIC) campaigns focused on improving our understanding of the interaction between clouds, convection and circulation and their function in our changing climate. The campaign utilized many data collection technologies, some of which are relatively new. In this study, we used saildrone uncrewed surface vehicles, one of the newer cutting edge technologies available for marine data collection, to validate Level 2 and Level 3 Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite and Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM) sea surface salinity (SSS) products in the Western Tropical Atlantic. The saildrones observed fine-scale salinity variability not present in the lower-spatial resolution satellite and model products. In regions that lacked significant small-scale salinity variability, the satellite and model salinities performed well. However, SMAP Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) 70 km generally outperformed its counterparts outside of areas with submesoscale SSS variation, whereas RSS 40 km performed better within freshening events such as a fresh tongue. HYCOM failed to detect the fresh tongue. These results will allow researchers to make informed decisions regarding the most ideal product and its drawbacks for their applications in this region and aid in the improvement of mesoscale and submesoscale SSS products, which can lead to the refinement of numerical weather prediction (NWP) and climate models.

Hall, Kashawn, Alton Daley, Shanice Whitehall, Sanola Sandiford, and Chelle L. Gentemann. 2022. "Validating Salinity from SMAP and HYCOM Data with Saildrone Data during EUREC4A-OA/ATOMIC" Remote Sensing 14, no. 14: 3375.


Using Saildrones to Validate Arctic Sea-Surface Salinity from the SMAP Satellite and from Ocean Models

The Arctic Ocean is one of the most important and challenging regions to observe—it experiences the largest changes from climate warming, and at the same time is one of the most difficult to sample because of sea ice and extreme cold temperatures. Two NASA-sponsored deployments of the Saildrone vehicle provided a unique opportunity for validating sea-surface salinity (SSS) derived from three separate products that use data from the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite. To examine possible issues in resolving mesoscale-to-submesoscale variability, comparisons were also made with two versions of the Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) model (Carroll, D; Menmenlis, D; Zhang, H.). The results indicate that the three SMAP products resolve the runoff signal associated with the Yukon River, with high correlation between SMAP products and Saildrone SSS. Spectral slopes, overall, replicate the -2.0 slopes associated with mesoscale-submesoscale variability. Statistically significant spatial coherences exist for all products, with peaks close to 100 km. Based on these encouraging results, future research should focus on improving derivations of satellite-derived SSS in the Arctic Ocean and integrating model results to complement remote sensing observations.

Vazquez-Cuervo, Jorge; Gentemann, Chelle; Tang, Wenqing; Carroll, Dustin; Zhang, Hong; Menemenlis, Dimitris; Gomez-Valdes, Jose; Bouali, Marouan; Steele, Michael. 2021. "Using Saildrones to Validate Arctic Sea-Surface Salinity from the SMAP Satellite and from Ocean Models" Remote Sens. 13, no. 5: 831.


Using Saildrones to Assess the SMAP Sea Surface Salinity Retrieval in the Coastal Regions

Remote sensing of sea surface salinity (SSS) near land is difficult due to land contamination. In this article, we assess SSS retrieved from the soil moisture active passive (SMAP) mission in coastal region. SMAP SSS products from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and from the remote sensing systems (RSS) are collocated with in situ data collected by saildrones during the North American West Coast Survey. Satellite and saildrone salinity measurements reveal consistent large-scale features: the fresh water (low SSS) assocciated with the Columbia River discharge, and the relatively salty water (high SSS) near Baja California associated with regional upwelling. The standard deviation of the difference for collocations with SMAP Level 3 (eight days average) between 40 and 100 km from land is 0.51 (0.56) psu for JPL V5 (RSS V4 70 km). This is encouraging for the potential application of SMAP SSS in monitoring coastal zone freshwater particularly where there exists large freshwater variance. We analyze the different land correction approaches independently developed at JPL and RSS using SMAP level 2 matchups. We found that JPL's land correction method is more promising in pushing SMAP SSS retrieval towards land. For future improvement, we suggest implementing dynamic land correction versus the current climatology-based static land correction to reduce uncertainty in estimating land contribution. In level 2 to level 3 processing, a more rigorous quality control may help to eliminate outliers and deliver reliable level 3 products without over-smoothing, which is important in resolving coastal processes such as fronts or upwelling.

W. Tang et al., "Using Saildrones to Assess the SMAP Sea Surface Salinity Retrieval in the Coastal Regions," in IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing, vol. 15, pp. 7042-7051, 2022, doi: 10.1109/JSTARS.2022.3200305.


Fish Avoidance of Ships During Acoustic Surveys Tested with Quiet Uncrewed Surface Vessels

Acoustic surveys to estimate fish biomass and abundance are a major component of many fisheries monitoring programs. An important bias in acoustic surveys is that fish may avoid the survey vessel. Here, we utilized quiet uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) equipped with 120 kHz split beam echosounders to evaluate fish responses to motorized survey vessels. Two of these USVs were deployed in Lakes Michigan and Huron in summer 2021 and compared against three motorized vessels used in conventional fisheries acoustic surveys. Paired comparisons employed vessel-drone passes that provided the opportunity to observe fish response as vessels approached and then overtook their quiet USV counterparts. Sound originating from the vessels was primarily in the 10–1000 Hz range. Overall received sound pressure levels for ships at the closest pass were 100 dB (re 1 µPa @ 1 m) for one and 133–134 dB for the other two vessels. In contrast, sound originating from the USV was not detectable over ambient noise. We examined acoustic data from the USVs for potential changes in total acoustic backscatter, average target depth, and average in situ target strength as vessels approached. We observed weak evidence of an avoidance response by fish to the vessel with the loudest noise profile and highest survey speed but not for the other two vessels. We also compared acoustic data from 33 2-km transects surveyed by both vessels and the USVs, finding few differences between vessel and USV data for water depths between 5 and 80 m. Results from this work suggest that acoustics estimates of fishes in Lakes Michigan and Huron (primarily alewife, rainbow smelt, and bloater) are largely consistent among the vessels used in these two lakes for standard acoustic surveys and that fish avoidance is minimal in water depths > 5 meters.

Thomas M. Evans, Lars G. Rudstam, Suresh A. Sethi, David M. Warner, S. Dale Hanson, Benjamin Turschak, Steven A. Farha, Andrew R. Barnard, Daniel L. Yule, Mark R. DuFour, Timothy P. O’Brien, Kevin N. McDonnell, James M. Watkins, Scott R. Koproski, Susan E. Wells, Patricia M. Dieter, Erik Kocher, James J. Roberts, Steven A. Senczyszyn, Peter C. Esselman, Fish avoidance of ships during acoustic surveys tested with quiet uncrewed surface vessels, Fisheries Research, Volume 267, 2023, 106817, ISSN 0165-7836,


High Latitude Sea Surface Skin Temperatures Derived From Saildrone Infrared Measurements

From May 15 to October 11, 2019, six Saildrone uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) were deployed for 150-day cruises collecting a suite of atmospheric and oceanographic measurements from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, transiting the Bering Strait into the Chukchi Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Two Saildrones funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), SD-1036 and SD-1037, were equipped with infrared (IR) radiation pyrometers in a “unicorn” structure on the deck for the determination of the ocean sea surface skin temperature (SST skin ). We present an algorithm to derive SSTskin from the downward- and upward-looking radiometers and estimate the main contributions to the inaccuracy of SSTskin. After stringent quality control of data and eliminating measurements influenced by sea ice and precipitation, and restricting the acceptable tilt angles of the USV based on radiative transfer simulations, SSTskin can be derived to an accuracy of approximately 0.12 K. The error budget of the derived SSTskin is developed, and the largest component comes from the instrumental uncertainties, assuming that the viewing geometry is adequately determined. Thus, Saildrones equipped with these sensors could provide sufficiently accurate SSTskin retrievals for studying the physics of the thermal skin effect, in conjunction with accurate subsurface thermometer measurements, and for validating satellite-derived SSTskin fields at high latitudes.

C. Jia, P. J. Minnett, M. Szczodrak and M. Izaguirre, "High Latitude Sea Surface Skin Temperatures Derived From Saildrone Infrared Measurements," in IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, vol. 61, pp. 1-14, 2023, Art no. 4200214, doi: 10.1109/TGRS.2022.3231519.


Hurricane Observations by Uncrewed Systems

On 30 September 2021, a saildrone uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) was steered into Category 4 Hurricane Sam, the most intense storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. It measured significant wave heights up to 14 m (maximum wave height 27 m) and near-surface winds exceeding 55 m s−1. This was the first time in more than seven decades of hurricane observations that in real time a USV transmitted scientific data, images, and videos of the dynamic ocean surface near a hurricane’s eyewall. The saildrone was part of a five-saildrone deployment of the NOAA 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Observations Mission. These saildrones observed the atmospheric and oceanic near-surface conditions of five other tropical storms, of which two became hurricanes. Such observations inside tropical cyclones help to advance the understanding and prediction of hurricanes, with the ultimate goal of saving lives and protecting property. The 2021 deployment pioneered a new practice of coordinating measurements by saildrones, underwater gliders, and airborne dropsondes to make simultaneous and near-collocated observations of the air-sea interface, the ocean immediately below, and the atmosphere immediately above. This experimental deployment opened the door to a new era of using remotely piloted uncrewed systems to observe one of the most extreme phenomena on Earth in a way previously impossible. This article provides an overview of this saildrone hurricane observations mission, describes how the saildrones were coordinated with other observing platforms, presents preliminary scientific results from these observations to demonstrate their potential utility and motivate further data analysis, and offers a vision of future hurricane observations using combined uncrewed platforms.

Zhang, Chidong, Gregory R. Foltz, Andy M. Chiodi, Calvin W. Mordy, Catherine R. Edwards, Christian Meinig, Dongxiao Zhang, Edoardo Mazza, Edward D. Cokelet, Eugene F. Burger, Francis Bringas, Gustavo J. Goni, Hristina G. Hristova, Hyun-Sook Kim, Joaquin A. Trinanes, Jun A. Zhang, Kathleen E. Bailey, Kevin M. O’Brien, Maria Morales-Caez, Noah Lawrence-Slavas, Richard Jenkins, Shuyi S. Chen, and Xingchao Chen. "Hurricane Observations by Uncrewed Systems", Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (published online ahead of print 2023), doi:


Autonomous eDNA Collection Using an Uncrewed Surface Vessel Over a 4,200-km Transect of the Eastern Pacific Ocean

The collection of environmental DNA (eDNA) samples is often laborious, costly, and logistically difficult to accomplish at high frequency in remote locations and over large geographic areas. Here, we addressed those challenges by combining two robotic technologies: an uncrewed surface vessel (USV) fitted with an automated eDNA sample collection device to survey surface waters in the eastern North Pacific Ocean from Alameda, CA to Honolulu, HI. USV Surveyor SD 1200 (Saildrone) carrying the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) collected 2-L water samples by filtration followed by RNAlater preservation at regular intervals over a 4200-km, 29-day transit. Sixty samples (52 field and 8 controls) were acquired and used to estimate the concentration of specific genes and assess eukaryotic diversity via targeted qPCR and metabarcoding of the cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI) gene, respectively. Comparisons of control samples revealed important considerations for interpreting results. Samples stored at ambient temperatures onboard Surveyor over the length of the voyage had less total recoverable DNA and specific target gene concentrations compared to the same material immediately flash-frozen after collection and stored in a laboratory. In contrast, the biodiversity of the COI genes in those samples was similar regardless of sample age and storage condition. COI genes affiliated with 40 eukaryotic phyla were found in native samples collected during the voyage. The distribution and dominance of those phyla varied across different regions, with some taxa spanning large continuous stretches >2000 km, while others were only detected in a single sample. This work highlights the utility and potential of using USVs fitted with autonomous eDNA sample collection devices to improve ocean exploration and support large, basin-scale, systematic biodiversity surveys. Results of this study also inform future technical considerations for using automated eDNA samplers to acquire material and store it over prolonged periods under prevailing environmental conditions.

Preston, C., Yamahara, K., Pargett, D., Weinstock, C., Birch, J., Roman, B., Jensen, S., Connon, B., Jenkins, R., Ryan, J., & Scholin, C. (2023). Autonomous eDNA collection using an uncrewed surface vessel over a 4200-km transect of the eastern Pacific Ocean. Environmental DNA, 00, 1–18.


Uncrewed Surface Systems Facilitating a New Era of Global Ocean Exploration

There is growing recognition that key to addressing critical issues like climate change, global sea level rise, and the long-term sustainability of humankind is a more complete understanding of our oceans and processes within them that account for the distribution of global heat, CO, and provide sustenance to so many. Yet, despite years of effort, less than 25% of the global ocean seafloor has been mapped, and less than 5% of the ocean volume explored, likely due to the cost and inefficiency of traditional ocean mapping and exploration techniques using large, very expensive, crewed research vessels. Recent advances in the development of uncrewed surface vessels offer the possibility to reduce costs and increase efficiency of ocean mapping and exploration. Such efficiencies can be gained by using small mother ship-deployed uncrewed vessels acting as relatively inexpensive mapping and sampling force multipliers or the use of small uncrewed vessels launched to from a mother ship to monitor and control autonomous underwater vehicles, allowing multiple operations simultaneously and “verified, directed sampling,” all while freeing the mother ship for independent operations. We are also seeing the development of larger uncrewed vessels launched from shore with long endurance and range, capable of carrying a full suite of deep ocean mapping and exploration tools. All of these systems and approaches offer great hope, but it is very early in our understanding of their full capabilities, costs, and limitations, and we must be careful not to overpromise, leading to disappointments and early abandonment of a potentially innovative approach, while at the same time maintaining the patience required to continue the research, investment, and innovation that will hopefully bring us to a new world of efficient and effective ocean mapping and exploration that will allow us to meet our goal of complete coverage of the ocean.

Mayer, Larry: Uncrewed surface systems facilitating a new era of global ocean exploration. International Hydrographic Review (29(1)), 42-55 (2023).

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