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‘Challenger’ Mission Aims to Send Underwater Gliders Round the World

Jan. 29, 2013
Zdenka Willis christening glider with water

U.S. IOOS® Director Zdenka Willis christens the Challenger glider with a bottle of seawater at Rutgers University.

Scientists from Rutgers University, a Mid-Atlantic partner of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®), recently launched a second test mission, called “Challenger,” aimed at sending the first series of unmanned, underwater robotic vehicles—known as “gliders”—around the world.

The scientists launched the remote-controlled glider from South Africa and plan to fly it to northern Brazil, a mission that could last up to a year. In the first test mission, a glider went from Iceland to the Canary Islands. That glider is also now headed for Brazil.

The test missions emerged in response to a 2009 challenge issued by Dr. Rick Spinrad, former NOAA assistant administrator and current chairman of the IOOS Federal Advisory Committee, to send gliders around the world. Dr. Spinrad suggested that the gliders follow the path of the HMS Challenger, the first vessel to circumnavigate the globe on a marine research expedition, which took place in the 1870s.

Gliders collect data about marine environments, such as water currents, temperature, and conditions that reveal the effects of storms on fisheries and water quality. This information gives scientists a more complete picture of what is happening in the ocean, and may help detect trends in ocean characteristics. The results are better forecasts and models that improve safety, boost the economy, and protect the environment.

As a cost-effective, low-risk method of collecting marine data at various depths, gliders are revolutionizing ocean observations.


U.S. IOOS® is a vital tool for tracking, predicting, managing, and adapting to changes in the ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes environments.