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Robotic Dolphins Measure Polar Melting and More

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arctic-139396_1280Robots the size of dolphins are measuring how fast the ice in Antartica is melting, demonstrating revolutionary ways of collecting data in remote polar regions.

The international research team led by Caltech used three robots measuring 2 meters (6 feet 6 inches) long and costing $240,000 each to measure the salinity and temperature in the waters of the Weddell Sea near Antarctica. These measurements showed how heat is driven into shallower waters in Antartica, which then melts the polar ice. It showed further proof to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s finding that the polar caps are losing mass, raising sea levels. The findings were published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

In addition to this, the study also demonstrated how using robot dolphins not only increases the amount of data that can be collected but also cuts costs. Despite the fact that one of the robots got lost, the study still came out cheaper than a similar data collection trip that used a ship. The ship not only cost US$30,000 a day, it also collected less information. The robot dolphins, on the other hand, can work practically non stop for months and even collect information underwater as needed.

And the robot dolphins are finding other uses. Demand “is growing in the marine research world along with small but noticeable uptake by defense and commercial operators,” says Katharina Nygaard, of Kongsberg’s subsea division. In the Arctic, gliders are tracking higher temperatures that are causing fish stocks to move north. They have moved from prototypes to production models last year. It was estimated that the world market for robot dolphin gliders was 800.

Question is, how soon will they appear on television and do tricks like Flipper?

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