Sailing ship Surveyor independently measures the sea floor

OWithout a skipper across the ocean: On its maiden voyage, which went from San Francisco to Hawaii, the Surveyor covered a distance of 4,200 kilometers using the energy from the sun and wind alone. The sailing boat was autonomous, it navigated itself. The Californian manufacturer Saildrone in Alameda built the ship to create a three-dimensional map of the sea bed. For this purpose, the Surveyor has high-tech sonar systems on board that produce high-resolution images. At the premiere, the ship drew a map of 22,000 square meters of seabed.

The boat is 22 meters long and weighs 14 tons. The forerunner named Explorer, of which several copies are already in use – they have the same task as the Surveyor – is only seven meters long. The steering gear and the numerous devices on board are powered by batteries. During the day, they are charged by solar cells that are distributed over the hull and sails. Like a “real” ocean going boat, the Surveyor is equipped with an identification system that continuously sends its position so that other ships can avoid it. Conversely, the sailing boat also receives the IDs of other ships in order to be able to avoid them.

So far, only 20 percent of the seabed has been recorded with sufficient resolution. The fact that the surfaces of the moon and Mars are mapped much better is due to the high costs of the manned research vessels used so far. “With our technology, you can achieve results of the same quality, but at a fraction of the cost,” says Richard Jenkins, founder and CEO of Saildrone. As part of the UN Seabed 2030 project, all oceans are to be scanned in nine years.

Three-dimensional maps are useful, among other things, for understanding the deep ocean currents, which are important for weather and climate change. The Gulf Stream, for example, plays a crucial role in the climate in large parts of Western and Northern Europe. Shipping can also benefit if the positions of shallows are precisely recorded. Then safety distances can be reduced, possibly including accidents like that of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, which ran onto a rock off the Italian island of Elba in 2017.

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