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Silent Eddy Hunters

Large regions with wind parks have been cropping up in the German North Sea for several years. The foundation structures work like gigantic mixing rods that swirl the tidal current. Using underwater gliders, researchers from the Institute of Coastal Research now measure the strength of the turbulence so that they can assess consequences of offshore wind energy development on biological and chemical processes in the sea.

A glider is placed into the water. Image: Suzanna Clark

A glider is placed into the water. Image: Suzanna Clark

They glide silently through the ocean. They sink deeper and deeper until they reach remote corners of the global seas. All alone and far away from the harbour or a research vessel, they follow their own route. They’re called gliders, these new inconspicuous marine science measurement instruments. Their strength lies in their simplicity. Gliders float with small wings entirely without fuel for days and weeks at a time. They are propelled forward by the Archimedean principle—by changing their mass.

A small chamber that can be filled with water is located in their interior. This makes the gliders heavier so they can drop. The glider can adjust at which angle it descends so that it doesn’t simply sink to the seafloor. It thus drops like a sailplane as it approaches for landing. The piston pushes the water from the chamber when it is time to ascend again. The glider becomes lighter and slowly rises through the water like a sailplane when it ascends. The human-sized gliders currently run around 150,000 Euros, which makes them much cheaper than conventional underwater robots. No wonder they are slowly becoming the workhorse of marine research.

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