Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Giving up my summer for winter?!

Luckily the winter I will be experience will be in Australia! So the weather should still be quite comfortable! I'll specifically be in Perth, Western Australia (see image below) for most of the journey for a period of 2 months. The program for which I was lucky enough to be granted a scholarship for is at the University of Western Australia. Actually, it's not a "program" per say, but rather a mix of an internship and an independent research project, form which I will be producing, amongst other things, a published paper.

My name is Dave, by the way, and I'm a biological oceanography major/biological sciences minor with a lot of experience with physical oceanography, operational oceanography, and even some engineering work. Let me take a moment to tell you about my background and experiences I've gained here at Rutgers than has led to this amazing internship at the University of Western Australia!

I've had some incredible opportunities and experiences here at Rutgers as an undergraduate, particularly with underwater robotics. The kinds of underwater robots I work with are probably nothing like most of you have seen on TV, such as Alvin or Jason that explored the Titanic. That's just because the robots I work with are some of the newest underwater robotic technologies; literally the robots of the future!

I work in the Coastal Ocean Observation Lab (COOL) in the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences (IMCS), as well as the Glider Lab in IMCS (Oceanographers love acronyms and abbreviations!). I have worked with a few different technologies, including satellite imagery and coastal radar, but primarily underwater robots called gliders (pictured below!). Gliders are a type of Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) that carry suites of science sensors to measure different aspects of the ocean (or bodies freshwater, too!). Gliders are designed to be controlled via satellite to able to stay out in the ocean for long periods of time and to travel long distances. This is achieved by maximizing battery power by not using any kind of energetic means of forward propulsion...such as a propellor or water jet. Instead, gliders have a piston at the front of the vehicle called a buoyancy pump. This pump can draw in or push out about 1 cup's worth of seawater. When the pump draws in water, it makes the nose of the glider "heavier" (more dense/negatively buoyant) than the surrounding seawater, and the nose of the glider pitches down. Since the glider has wings and is hydrodynamically designed, the robot glides (hence the name "glider"!) down AND forward, rather than just sinking straight down. When the glider gets to the desired depth, the pump pushes out the water, making the nose of the glider "lighter" (less dense/positively buoyant) than the surrounding seawater, and the robot glides up and forward towards the surface. The glider repeats that pattern over and over, making a sawtooth-like pattern vertically in the water to create forward motion without using much battery power at all. Current models can stay out in the ocean for up to about a year as of now, and newer models in development now are projected to be able to stay out in the ocean for up to 5 years (!!!) without human contact. The science sensors on the glider can collect all different kinds of data, such as temperature, salinity (salt content), depth, density, dissolved oxygen, phytoplankton health and abundance, nitrate, dissolved organic matter, microturbulence, ocean current speed and direction, etc. After all, the mechanisms and physics of the way these gliders work are truly incredible, but when it comes down to it, gliders are nothing but vehicles to carry sensors for a science mission!
Sorry if I went on too long about that stuff! I really enjoy it, and wanted to share it with you all, too. Plus, I want to make sure you guys have an idea about what I'll be doing down under!

This summer will be an amazing extension of the experiences I've had working with gliders here at Rutgers. I will be working at the School of Environmental Systems Engineering (SESE) and the Australian National Facility for Ocean Gliders (ANFOG) at the University of Western Australia (UWA). ANFOG is part of Australia's Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS). See...I wasn't kidding about the acronym/abbreviation thing!!! Anyway, I will be studying the Leeuwin Current System, which is vital to both the climate, biology, and ecosystems particularly off the coast of Western Australia. I will also be working with the UWA/ANFOG staff to fly their first fleet of gliders (two or more gliders flying a similar pattern within close proximity of each other). Flying gliders as fleets, rather than individually, has the advantages of having multi-point samples for averaging and better resolving anomalies in the data, sensor calibrations, etc. I'll save more about that stuff for next time...which may be when I'm in Australia!

I'm SUPER excited for this summer!!! This is my ideal internship/research opportunity for my last summer before I graduate next year and move on to grad school. What's extra special about this internship is that the program didn't already exist - this is totally new to the University of Western Australia. I was able to raise all the funding - with help from the Rutgers SEBS Summer International Scholarship among other sources - for this experience. I worked tirelessly for a long time and through many moments of grim-looking horizons for this...but luckily my hard work has paid off in a way I can't even begin to truly express my gratitude for. In addition to the staff at the Rutgers SEBS International Program, I would also very much like to thank the staff at the University of Western Australia/ANFOG, the staff at the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, the staff at Teledyne Webb Research, among others who made this possible. Thank you SO much.

While I'm in Australia, I plan on experiencing as much as possible in my off-time, including surfing, scuba diving, hiking, etc! I'll be sure to post pictures and videos of all my adventures, both in and out of the internship. Please feel free to comment on any of my blog posts! Thanks for reading everyone! Looking forward to keeping you updated!



  1. Dave,
    Your excitement is contagious. I look forward to hearing more. Also, this may be a duplicate post as I am just figuring out this system here.
    Lily Young

  2. Thanks Lily!! I just got to Australia safely yesterday after a tantalizingly long flight! Trying to rest up and get myself on the 12-hour-difference schedule. I'll be posting again soon!


  3. Great post! Especially the description on how the glider works. You worked so hard to design this international learning experience. I am certain it is going to be highly rewarding.
    Rest up from your travels. We are looking forward to your future posts!