Saildrone is a company based in Alameda in California that makes autonomous surface vehicles powered only by wind and sun. They also do mapping in remote oceans to provide climate quality data for scientists around the world. The drones were launched from Newport, Rhode Island to sail the North Atlantic strong currents for six months.
The goal of the project is to collect information necessary to improve long-range and medium-range weather forecasting and to account for how much man-made carbon dioxide the Gulf Stream can absorb. Susan Ryan, vice president at Saildrone, stated that carbon data could be used to improve models used by other countries to hold them accountable for their emissions reduction goals.
The mission is being led by scientists from the University of Rhode Island as well as the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. Ryan explained that the $1 million grant provided by Google.org's Impact Challenge on Climate and the philanthropic arm, Google.org, covers the cost of the work.
Ryan said that the carbon budget that was released at the COP26 climate negotiations in Glasgow used ocean carbon uptake estimates that were generated using models and statistical methods. However, these can produce a range of results and uncertainty.
Philip Browne, a researcher at ECMWF said that the Gulf Stream also has a significant impact on weather forecasts, climate predictions, and that they are excited to use drones to gather data from this physically and scientifically difficult region.
According to Saildrone, modified wings on their saildrones captured the first drone video in a Category 4 hurricane, Hurricane Sam. They also completed the first unmanned circumnavigation around Antarctica in 2019. In 2015, the company launched its first scientific mission to the Arctic.
A drone from their company was used to monitor the Gulf Stream for 18 days in 2019.
Jaime Palter, a URI scientist and co-principal investigator, stated in a statement that "In that brief period, we collected as much ocean CO2 measurements for the Gulf Stream during the month of February than had ever been recorded in all of the history of oceanography."
Three drones will be recovered in Newport next year. As the drones travel the Gulf Stream, data will be transmitted via satellite to scientists.