Ocean Robotics Science and Engineering Capability in South Africa – A Leap Forward

Sea Technology Services has recently provided operational, piloting and engineering support for the deployments in the Southern Ocean of a Liquid Robotics Wave Glider and an iRobot Seaglider under the CSIR’s Southern Ocean Carbon-Climate Observatory (SOCCO) program.

This adds a new, exciting and challenging chapter to our company’s involvement with pioneering and cutting-edge ocean science and engineering in South Africa.Dr Pedro Monteiro, head of the SOCCO program summarised the deployments and mission in an 18 October 2013 Mail & Guardian article and  his email:

SOCCO Robotics in Southern Ocean

Hi colleagues, yesterday Sunday 13th October at 13:00 UT we took another big step in innovating the observational space in the Southern Ocean and its role in global and regional climate by deploying the first integrated robotics platform: combined wave and buoyancy gliders. This deployment 1000km south of Cape Town, builds on the pioneering work from 2012 when we completed the longest high resolution missions in the Southern Ocean using buoyancy gliders. Yesterday's deployments are novel in that it is the first global deployment of robotics based CO2 observations in the SO and secondly it is the start of a multi-platform strategy that we hope to show through our work will close the uncertainty gap in annual CO2 flux estimates within 3 years. This combined fleet is starting a 5 month mission that will take both units to Antarctica and back at a time that there are no ship based observations.

None of this would be possible without the truly wonderful team of scientists and engineers: I particularly want to highlight the overall coordination (mission director) role of Dr Sebastiaan Swart working with the best ocean robotics engineers in South Africa: Mr Derek Needham and Mr Andre Hoek and their young students Sinekhaya Bilana and JP Smit. This team is rapidly becoming one of the highly skilled global robotics teams with special experience in Southern Ocean conditions and constraints.

We have to thank our NOAA - PMEL and University of Washington colleagues as well as Liquid Robotics for their support and helping us build up a nucleus of an ocean robotics science and engineering capability in SA at CSIR. We also need to thank SAMSA who made the SA Agulhas I available to SOCCO to implement this joint CSIR-DST programme.

At 5am this morning when we could see that all the sensors and navigation systems in both gliders were working as expected the SA Agulhas was cleared to return to Cape Town. Now comes the interesting part of navigating them towards Antarctica through the storms and freeezing conditions and keeping the sensors working for 5 months

Dr. Pedro M. Scheel Monteiro
Head: Ocean Systems & Climate, CSIR“