News Deeply –
As Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever recorded, rampaged through Florida, floodwaters from Harvey, the wettest tropical cyclone to hit the United States mainland, receded, sending trillions of gallons of freshwater into the Gulf of Mexico. That influx is altering the salinity of the Gulf, potentially triggering an algal bloom that could harm marine life, including valuable commercial species.
Yet real-time data on the phenomenon is lacking. Though a farmer can find out the pH of every row of her crops in Iowa while sitting in a Broadway theater, and a homeowner can crank up his hot tub from a window seat on a 787, fishers are lucky to know if the weather will be too stormy to go out a week from now – and must rely on little better than a hunch to know where the fish will be. The mobile phone revolution has made it cost-effective to connect remote sensing devices on land to the internet, providing real-time data and the ability to manage resources. Yet the ocean – covering two-thirds of the Earth’s surface – is by comparison a black box.
That’s beginning to change as scientists, governments and the private sector seek to collect more data from the ocean for climate change research, security, resource extraction and other purposes. Liquid Robotics, a Silicon Valley-based company that manufactures an autonomous sea-faring robot called the Wave Glider, dubs it the “Digital Ocean” – an effort to build a vast network of remote, relatively low-cost instruments at sea that are capable of communicating with one another and with satellites, airborne drones and onshore facilities.