Sail Drones Collect Data for Great Lakes

Saildrone Explorers

Two uncrewed surface vehicles recently began a 45-day sailing mission through Lakes Michigan and Huron as part of a scientific study.

The U.S. Geological Survey and Saildrone, Inc. launched the vehicles from Macatawa, Michigan, on July 28. These ocean drones, called Saildrone Explorers, began collecting fishery data on Lake Michigan starting August 5, sailing north into Lake Huron through September. Information collected as part of the study will help inform sustainable management of the $7 billion-per-year Great Lakes fishing industry.

The Saildrones will use acoustic, or sound, technology to gather fish distribution and density data around-the-clock. USGS scientists will use the data to better understand the effects of large vessel engine noise on fish sampling and catchability. This information will be used to sustain important fisheries for states, Tribes, and likely the Province of Ontario, Canada.

The 23-foot autonomous vehicles are powered by wind and solar energy and carry no people. The sailboat-like drones have a 15-foot-tall wing sail and weighted keel, and they bear a payload of science sensors as well as navigational and communications equipment on their hulls.

The acoustic technology used in the study is not hazardous to people or animals and will not interfere with sonar, communications equipment, or similar electronics.

For information about USGS research on the Great Lakes, please visit the USGS Great Lakes Science Center website.

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