NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — Three new Saildrones left Newport Harbor on Thursday, headed into the Atlantic to take important measurements to learn more about climate change and improve weather forecasting.
“A Saildrone is an autonomous surface vehicle. It’s actually powered by the wind and the sun, and it can spend up to 365 days at sea,” explained Susan Ryan, Saildrone’s vice president of marketing.
The 23-foot, bright orange vessels have an array of instruments to measure ocean and atmospheric data for the University of Rhode Island.
“It’s really exciting to get three Saildrones to go out into the Gulf Stream,” said Jamie Palter, an oceanography professor at URI.
The Gulf Stream is a river of warm water in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast of the United States. It can impact the weather and climate in the U.S. and Europe.
Getting data from there is quite challenging, however.
“I’ll be looking mostly at the carbon data that will allow us how to understand how the ocean is soaking up some of the atmospheric carbon,” Palter told 12 News Meteorologist T.J. Del Santo.
Palter said there’s some uncertainty about how much carbon the oceans absorb from the atmosphere, but her team is excited to learn more about that interaction.
URI’s 53-foot ocean trawler, the Cap’n Burt, took media members, scientists and guests into Narragansett Bay to watch the Saildrones depart on their journey. One by one, the three vessels were towed out of Newport Harbor into Narragansett Bay, passing in front of the iconic Newport Bridge where they were released on the sunny but calm day.
“We do anticipate they’ll experience extremely rough weather,” Palter added.
While on the high seas, the drones will also provide the position of the Gulf Stream, which will benefit the European computer model (ECMWF) and help improve weather forecasts.
“I need all that data, too, to understand the air-sea carbon exchange, and together we can do both of these projects with a single platform,” Palter said.
This Saildrone mission was funded by Google.org, the company’s philanthropic arm.