Saildrone, a leading autonomous shipping company, has successfully completed a groundbreaking marine survey mission in remote areas off the Aleutian Islands of California and Alaska, mapping over 45,000 square kilometers of previously uncharted seabed to fill significant gaps in marine exploration and mapping.
Based in Alameda, California, Saildrone develops and operates a fleet of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) equipped with a variety of sensors and instruments to collect marine data for scientific and commercial applications.
The company said Tuesday its Saildrone Surveyor, which it describes as the world’s largest unmanned ocean mapping vehicle, has completed the unmanned survey around the Aleutian Islands and off the coast of California. The months-long investigation was part of a multi-agency public-private partnership funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) that aimed to fill gaps in ocean research in remote areas with UPSs close.
The US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is one of the largest in the world, but it is largely uncharted, unmonitored, and unexplored. Alaska, in particular, is the least-charted region of the US EEZ.
The Saildrone Surveyor SD 1200 sailed across the North Pacific to the study area in July 2022 and mapped 16,254 square kilometers of uncharted seabed around the Aleutian Islands over 52 days. The reviewer also contributed technology from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute for sampling environmental DNA (eDNA), which provides critical insights into marine biodiversity and ocean health.
Despite challenging conditions in the Aleutian region, including 35-knot winds and swells in excess of 5 metres, the land surveyor collected high-quality data that will be used to optimize dive targets during upcoming expeditions on NOAA’s research vessel Oceanos Explorer.
The second half of the mission off the California coast included mapping an additional 29,720 square kilometers of the US EEZ and discovering a previously unknown seamount approximately 1,000 meters high. According to Saildrone, identifying such seamounts improves our understanding of the ocean’s physical processes and identifies areas that need further exploration as unique habitats.
The project was operationally managed by NOAA’s Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute (OECI) and the University of New Hampshire. Data collected around the Aleutian Islands will be publicly available through NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
Saildrone says there is increasing demand for its Surveyor-class vessels, with four more Surveyor-class ocean mapping vessels to be built by Austal USA in Mobile, AL, this year. The mission demonstrates that long-life UPSs are a viable option to achieve the goals of the National Ocean Mapping, Exploration, and Characterization Strategy. This is the future of ocean mapping.