The torpedo-like Slocum gliders “fly” through the water at low speeds for months at a time, taking measurements over massive distances—sometimes well over 1000 kilometers (621 miles). Gliders glide through the water in a sawtooth pattern, angling down toward the lakefloor by decreasing the buoyancy of the nose cone, and then increasing the buoyancy to angle back up towards the surface. Originally developed for ocean observing, these gliders are typically allowed to dive down hundreds of meters before needing to turn back toward the surface. But Cailin says that with some calibration, the gliders can be tweaked to work even in the shallow conditions of Lake Erie—just over 64 meters (210 feet) at its deepest.
Once programmed with a mission, the gliders can operate mostly on their own.
“In theory, you could just deploy the gliders and let them go,” Cailin says. But conditions are not always predictable, so the gliders need to be monitored and adjusted to ensure sensors are operational and the glider is on its course.
The worst-case scenario? That would be losing communication with a glider that’s unable to surface, according to Katelynn Johnson, RAEON’s Research and Operations Director. If communications are gone, often the only thing left to do is to hope the device washes up on a beach or is reported by a boater. But losing contact permanently is unlikely thanks to the glider’s built-in safety features, like lakefloor-detection, and when in the hands of Teledyne-trained pilots like Cailin, who has spent hundreds of hours on glider missions.
Soon, Canadian researchers will be able to rent the gliders and Cailin’s expertise to augment their own projects via RAEON.
Based at the University of Windsor and funded by both the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund, RAEON is something of a candy shop for Great Lakes researchers in Canada. They provide buoys, boats, and cutting-edge remote sensing technologies, along with the accompanying infrastructure, staff, and data management.
Last year, in an effort to continue expanding the regional capacity for glider-based monitoring, GLOS stepped in to help fund a glider position at RAEON. With one more technician working alongside existing partners to keep missions going, the short-term hope is for an even clearer picture of how harmful algal blooms come to life and change throughout the lake, informing future decisions for researchers, water treatment professionals, and natural resource managers, as well as the general public.