S.V. Blue Moon recently partnered, through the University of Hawaii, with the University of Washington and NASA, to assist in deploying a FloatECO Lagrangian Float into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Having an interesting-looking robot on the deck with a NASA sticker on it has generated more than a few questions. We’ve nicknamed him “Sam.” Here’s a few details about what Sam is, what his purpose is, and how we’ll be deploying him in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The purpose of the FloatECO Lagrangian Float is to “create a platform for biophysical monitoring of floating ecosystems that is flexible, interactive, and near real-time.” [Dr. Andrey Shcherbina, Principal Oceanographer, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington.]
Sam has 3-6 months of battery life, with antennas on top that communicate to the research team via satellite when he is surfaced. Attached to his side are drogues with sample panels to collect biological specimens. There is a 3MP camera and light cables, enabling Sam to capture real time images underwater, including microplastics, debris, and currents, that are relayed when Sam surfaces. Beneath that there is a temperature and salinity sensor. Sam has ballast pistons coming out of the bottom that enable him to stay neutrally buoyant and maintain or alter his position in different currents.
When S.V. Blue Moon and crew are underway, we will be targeting a specific area as designated by our research partners, based on the currents and the movement of the gyre during that time frame. Once at our designated GPS location, we will hoist Sam up off the deck using the spinnaker halyard to slowly lift him up and over the side of the boat into the water. Once he’s released from the halyard, Sam will sink below the surface within a minute, reemerging about an hour after for an initial check-in. After that, Sam will surface once a day to check-in via satellite with our research partners.
We’re very excited to be a part of this research and hope that it contributes to our ongoing efforts to raise awareness about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
S.V. Blue Moon
S.V. Blue Moon and crew are excited to be collaborating with Dr. Rebecca Helm, from the University of North Carolina, on our research in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch this year. Dr. Helm has asked us to assist in her research of neustons. Neustons are marine life that float on the surface of the water. There is strikingly little research on these incredible species. Some types, like “By-the-wind-sailors” are relatives of jellyfish and have a specialized sail to move through the water, with large groups forming together to make expansive flotillas on the surface. Other types, like the Blue sea dragon, have ONLY been seen in the North Pacific Subtropical gyre. Neustonic ecosystems are dense and richly habited, similar to a rainforest.
There is currently no way to predict when and where these species will be found, though research indicates that large populations exist within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch gyre. There is also very little information about the impact of plastics to these species, including the cleanup of plastics and its impacts to the greater oceanic ecosystem. Dr. Helm wrote an article about this issues, published by The Atlantic, and viewable by this link: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/ocean-cleanup-project-could-destroy-neuston/580693/
Stay tuned to our blog for updates on the neustons and our ongoing research in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch!