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Are Robots Exploring Hidden Mysteries in Our Oceans’ Climate?

Are Robots Exploring Hidden Mysteries in Our Oceans’ Climate?

Considering climate change extreme weather events, researchers from Scotland are utilising advanced robotic gliders to monitor ocean currents, focusing on the critical heat exchange system between the Caribbean and the Arctic. This system, known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), is essential for distributing tropical warmth globally and maintaining the temperate climate of northern Europe. [1]

The Scottish Association for Marine Science (Sams), based in Oban, is orchestrating this project. The initiative involves deploying these robotic devices on an autonomous journey from the UK to Iceland over a span of five months. This study is crucial, as scientists express concerns over the potential weakening of the AMOC, which could have far-reaching climatic impacts. [1]

A weakening of the AMOC is identified as a critical climate “tipping point.” Current research suggests a gradual decline in its strength, although fluctuations are common. Long-term monitoring, spanning several decades, is necessary for conclusive assessments of its vitality. Predictive models indicate that while a total collapse would be catastrophic, such an event is highly unlikely within the 21st century. [1]

The robotic gliders employed in this research are capable of diving to depths of 1,000 metres (3,281 feet), collecting essential data on water temperature, oxygen, and salinity. Moving at a pace of half a mile per hour, these gliders surface every five to six hours to transmit data to the research team via satellite. [1]

Oceanographer Helen Smith emphasises the significance of these robots, noting the limitations of historical ocean studies, which were largely restricted to ship-based observations. These robotic gliders enable year-round data collection in previously inaccessible areas. [1]

Since 2004, the AMOC has been under continuous observation and modelling. The process involves warm water travelling north, cooling, and increasing in salt density, which causes it to sink and flow southwards, thus completing the cycle. The Met Office has highlighted the need for close monitoring of the AMOC, especially considering the increasing polar ice melt and warming climate. [1]

Professor Mark Inall, an expert in physical oceanography at Sams, elaborates on the role of the North Atlantic’s heat in the global climate system. He explains how this heat transfer contributes to atmospheric conditions, influencing weather patterns, particularly around the UK. [1]

Beyond monitoring the AMOC, data from these gliders enhance the understanding of atmospheric changes influenced by oceanic variations. This information is vital for improving short-term weather forecasts. In addition to gliders, the project also utilises an autonomous boat equipped with sonar to gather ocean pressure data from seabed sensors, further enriching the scope of this pivotal research. [1]

Sources:

  1. Deep-diving robots checking for climate collapse in our oceans. (2023). BBC News. [online] 23 Nov. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-67359467 [Accessed 27 Nov. 2023].
  2. Anon, (2023). 23rd November: Deep-diving robots checking for climate collapse in our oceans – Fisheries Management Scotland. [online] Available at: https://fms.scot/23rd-november-deep-diving-robots-checking-for-climate-collapse-in-our-oceans/.