Challenger mission – launch of glider, Fremantle WA. Photo: Charitha Pattiaratchi


Underwater glider sets off from Perth to Sri Lanka in record-breaking mission

The IMOS Ocean glider Facility together with Rutgers University have deployed an ocean glider off Fremantle heading to Sri Lanka, a distance of 6,200 km. This is the longest journey of an ocean glider to-date.

IMOS, through the University of Western Australia which operates Australia’s National Facility for Ocean Gilders, is proud to be part of the Challenger Glider Mission. The glider’s successful crossing of the southern Indian Ocean has been an historic event. As it heads north to Sri Lanka and eventually back to South Africa it will complete a world first circumnavigation of the Indian Ocean basin.

Ocean gliders are underwater autonomous vehicles which are used for collecting data on ocean conditions. They are providing a revolution in our ability to observe and measure many properties of the sub-surface ocean. Importantly they are able to transmit data from open ocean to shore in near real time.

IMOS Director, Tim Moltmann speaks of the collaboration with Rutgers University to undertake this ambitious plan.

“The Challenger Glider Mission is pushing the limits of the technology and helping us to learn just how much can be achieved through well planned missions involving multiple partners. 

“It is enabling us to build capacity in ocean sciences around the Indian Ocean Rim, where development of the blue economy holds immense promise for the future,” said Mr Moltmann.

“Open access to cost effective ocean information from autonomous technologies will be key to unlocking this potential,” he said.

Data collected by the glider will be available through the Global Telecommunication System (GTS) and the intention is to integrate these data into the Australian Ocean Data Portal (AODN), which makes vast amounts of ocean data freely available to the research community, industry and the general public.

The glider was launched in Fremantle (Australia) to travel to Galle (Sri Lanka), an estimated distance of 6,200km. It is expected to take about 8–10 months to make the journey, arriving in Sri Lanka after the monsoon in September 2017.

The Challenger Glider Mission will capture and communicate unprecedented undersea data and help determine how changes in currents, temperatures and salinity affect weather patterns and give scientists a deeper understanding into the changing climate.

University of Western Australia Professor of Coastal Oceanography and leader of the IMOS Ocean gliders facility, Charitha Pattiaratchi, is part of the team navigating the Challenger glider. 

“The research will be able to assist in predicating ocean trends in the future. This will be helpful for mariners and shipping routes, but most importantly it’s to look at how the ocean climate is changing.

“We want to collect data across the ocean basins and see how the temperature and salinity changes with depth. We are then able to compare previous measurements taken 40 years ago and see how the ocean has changed,” Professor Pattiaratchi said.

The glider has two ‘tubes’ to physically carry objects inside its body. Similar to the familiar ‘message in a bottle’, the glider is carrying letters of support for its journey as well as the flags of US, Australia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and UNESCO. These were placed in the glider at a pre-launch ceremony attended by Dr Christopher Back, Liberal Senator for WA and Chair, Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence & Trade Legislation Committee.

IMOS and the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) are both Regional Alliances of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). It is through this global collaboration that our institutional partners, Rutgers University and the University of Western Australia, have come together to implement these legs of the Challenger Gilder mission. 

IMOS thanks its colleagues in Sri Lanka and South Africa for their cooperation. 

“We look forward to building stronger collaborations with our colleagues in Indian Ocean science to develop the region’s blue economy, said Mr Moltmann.

“Who knows what challenges the glider will face as she makes her way across this vast ocean frontier. 

“We wish her, and her pilots and technical support staff, the very best of luck,” he said.

Further information on the Challenger glider mission can be found at Rutgers University and University of Western Australia websites.

Categories:  Home Slider, WAIMOS, news, Facility, Ocean Gliders, Node
Challenger glider pre-launch at UWA glider port.

The pre-launch celebration for underwater glider 'Challenger' (RU29) at the University of Western Australia’s glider port before deployment on its first leg of a planned Indian Ocean circumnavigation. L to R: Chip Haldeman, Rutgers glider pilot; Nick D’Adamo, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO and IOC IIOE-2 Coordinator; Scott Glenn, Rutgers Professor; Charitha Pattiaratchi, University of Western Australia Professor; Dr Christopher Back, Liberal Senator for WA and Chair, Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence & Trade Legislation Committee; and Dennis Stanley, UWA Glider Pilot. Photo: Yasha Hetzel