‘Glider Base, This is Zodiac’

In walkie-talkie etiquette, you call to the person you want to talk to, then identify yourself. So when ‘Glider Base, this is Zodiac’ comes over the radio, it means that someone in a little inflatable rubber boat (called a zodiac) wants to talk to the person who is running the gliders.

Six of us were in that boat, bobbing in the waves about a half-mile from the Palmer. We were about to launch glider RU07 for a day’s sampling. That morning we had reached ‘Big Red,’ the point where glider RU26 had seen signs of our target—Modified Circumpolar Deep Water—two weeks ago.

While the science teams spent the day sampling the water beneath us, glider RU07 headed southeast to sample the surrounding water. By the end of the day, it had found something surprising. Read on through the slideshow to see what happened:

One of the main reasons Dr. Kohut brought gliders down to the Ross Sea was to do something called ‘adaptive sampling.’ It’s a simple and smart idea—take a look at conditions in the ocean, and then choose the best place to do your experiments.

But the catch has always been that it’s really hard to take that first broad look into the ocean. Oceans are big, deep, and dark—you can’t tell very much about them without driving a ship from point to point and lowering instruments into the water. But with gliders moving around on their own and sending their data back to us, we finally have enough information to be adaptive—to react to situations as we learn about them.

Or, as Peter Milne of the National Science Foundation put it this evening, “It’s like doing science with your eyes open.” It sounds kind of silly, but for many branches of oceanography, technology like these gliders is only just starting to make this possible.

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About Hugh Powell

Hugh is a staff writer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and is on special assignment with the Rutgers University Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences. He has previously written for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

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