USM using missile-looking device to track oil in Gulf - - The News for South Mississippi

USM using missile-looking device to track oil in Gulf


By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

MISSISSIPPI SOUND, MS (WLOX) – Don't be surprised if you see what looks like a yellow torpedo surfacing in the Gulf of Mexico in the coming months. That 'missile' is actually a research device called a Slocum Glider.

USM bought the glider three years ago to monitor organisms, water temperature, and salinity levels in Mississippi waters. The glider also comes with sensors that track yellow and brown organic matter. Those sensors are now being used by USM researchers to detect concentrations of oil in the Gulf.

"Based on the amount of particles of light that bounce back at a certain wavelength, we can determine if that may be oil or other constituents in the water," said USM researcher Kevin Martin.

On Monday, the researchers showed WLOX how the glider works. The aluminum device is five-feet long and weighs about 100 pounds. It has detachable wings and can be deployed anywhere in the world. It moves on its own by sucking in water to go deeper and releasing the water to surface.

"It moves through the water in a zig-zag type pattern," said Martin.

And the glider can be pre-programmed to move wherever researchers want it to go.

"You put it in the water, wave it good bye and you come back in 20 to 30 days.  It's at a position you tell it to go to and you pick it up," said Martin. "When it comes to the surface, and we see oil spill projections in the area, we can actually change its pattern and send it in that direction."

Sensors attached to the belly can record the data.  A satellite phone in the tail allows the glider to communicate with researchers at the Department of Marine Science at Stennis in Hancock County.

"So if it calls at night and I'm not there, it continues on without me even telling it to go on," Martin said.

The information collected will be shared with other researchers who are also tracking the oil's movement in the Gulf.

"There are some of these gliders from other institutions being used in the Gulf.  Most of them are off the coast of Florida. They're all being linked to a central web site, so everybody can look at the data and look at what's happening out here," said Martin.

The Slocum Glider costs about $135,000.  USM researchers plan to deploy it near the Mississippi-Alabama state line either at the end of July or the first week of August.

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