The objective of this research is the creation of a coastal observing system that enables dense, in situ, 4D sensing through networked, sensor-equipped underwater drifters. The approach is to develop the technologies required to deploy a swarm of autonomous buoyancy controlled drifters, which are vehicles that can control their depth, but are otherwise carried entirely by the ocean currents. Such Lagrangian sampling promises to deliver a wealth of new data, ranging from applications in physical oceanography (mapping 3D currents), biology (observing the dispersion of larvae and nutrients), environmental science (tracking coastal pollutants and effluents from storm drains), and security (monitoring harbors and ports). This observing system fundamentally requires accurate positions of the drifters (to interpret the spatial correlations of data samples), swarm control algorithms (to achieve desired sampling topologies), and wireless communication (to coordinate between the individual drifters). This research will create distributed techniques to self-localize the drifter swarm, novel swarm control algorithms that enable topology manipulation while purely leveraging the stratified flow environment, and efficient wireless underwater communication for information sharing. This project has significant societal impact and educational elements. Underwater drifter swarms will enable novel insights into a wide array of scientific questions, including understanding plankton transport, accumulation and dispersion as well as monitoring harmful algal blooms. Undergraduates will play an active role in many aspects of this project, thereby offering them a uniquely interdisciplinary experience. Finally, outreach to high school students will occur through the UCSD COSMOS summer program.
Performance Period: 09/15/2010 - 08/31/2014
Institution: University of California-San Diego Scripps Institute of Oceanography
Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Award Number: 1035518