NOAA To Launch a Navy of Sailboat Drones to Monitor the Pacific Ocean

The drones will replace NOAA's aging network of buoys to monitor ocean currents and weather patterns.

Saildrone

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintains a network of sensors across the world to monitor weather patterns, temperatures, ocean currents, and more. Part of this network is a collection of ocean buoys spread throughout the Atlantic and Pacific, and these buoys are reaching the end of their life.

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To replace them, NOAA is : autonomous sailboat drones, built by California startup Saildrone. These drones have just completed a test voyage across the Pacific Ocean, sailing for 8 months and collecting wind and temperature data. Under a full partnership with NOAA, these sailboat drones would fill the ocean, continually collecting data to help the agency track storms and other weather patterns.

For decades, NOAA has relied on a network of buoys called the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean array in the Pacific in order to track weather patterns. The most important function of this array is to monitor the El Niño cycles in the southern Pacific. But in recent years, these buoys have grown old or been damaged by overzealous fishing boats, and NOAA has resorted to spending millions of dollars a year repairing them.

It’s a problem in need of a creative solution, and Saildrone hopes to provide it. Their drones provide the same sensing and monitoring capabilities of NOAA’s buoys but with the advantage of being mobile. Sail on.

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