History 101 -The Slocum Glider goes to Sea


Above photo from Tuckerton, NJ and the first at-sea deployment of a Slocum Glider. Clayton Jones is on the left, Doug Webb is on the right.

One thing we occassionally get to do is tell our students stories of our history, especially of the people we have met, have gone to sea with, and through our common interests, both on and off the boat, have become lifelong friends. Meeting Doug was a turning point in that history, is one of those friends, and part of that story. Here is my version.

I first introduced myself to Doug Webb a decade ago. I already knew Doug from my days in the early 1980’s as a student at Woods Hole. I don’t think Doug knew me. So it was 1998, and we were both at a coastal observation and modeling conference at MIT. It was sponsored by the MIT SeaGrant office to pull in more people working with AUVs. I gave a talk about the coastal predictive skill experiments we were planning offshore Tuckerton, NJ. It was part of the new National Ocean Partnership Program (NOPP). My talk included slides on a new REMUS Autonomous Underwater Vehicle that Chris von Alt was building at WHOI.

At this same conference, Doug gave a talk on an AUV that I had not seen before. In fact, it was very different from any AUV I had ever seen. Doug’s AUV first had wings, and when you looked closer, it had no propeller. It was instead driven by a buoyancy engine that would cause it to alternate between floating and sinking. It used wings to glide horizontally both on the way up and on the way down. Unlike the propeller driven vehicles, with typical durations measured in hours, Doug’s plans for the Glider included having it deployed for weeks, months and eventually years at a time. At that very moment I knew I needed one. It could provide the continuous spatial context for all the shipboard measurements we had planned. And it could patrol the outer edge of our region of interest, so that the models would be on track when the ships went in. I invited Doug to join us in Tuckerton in the annual Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Coastal Predictive Skill Experiment. We all wrote another NOPP proposal together, and a new partnership between Rutgers and Webb Research was born.

The next year, 1999, with NOPP funding, Doug brought one of his gliders down to Tuckerton for some initial testing (see above photo). It was the first time a Slocum was to be deployed at sea, and we tied a rope to the tail just to make sure. Clayton Jones would be on shore and would talk to the glider via a Freewave Radio Modem. Doug Webb would go out on one of our local SeaTow vessels for the deployment. Clayton said Doug would need some help, since typically 2 people deploy the glider. We chose a first year grad student, Josh Kohut, to accompany Doug on that historic test. Once deployed for the first time in the open ocean, the glider was told to dive, return to the surface, and phone home. It did. All on its own. We didn’t even need the rope. We called it a year.

Doug and Clayton came back to the Coastal Predictive Skill Experiments again in 2000 and 2001. The white line below shows the track of the first x-shelf section in 2000. Clayton flew the glider out to the edge of the Freewave Modem range and back. Temperature data from the flight is on the right. We couldn't leave the approximately 30 km watch circle of the freewave antenna mounted on the 64 meter Meteorological tower at Tuckerton.  Next step was global satellite communications, but that would have to wait for 2003.

We now run 17 gliders, and Josh is a Professor of Marine Science at Rutgers.

2 Responses to “History 101 -The Slocum Glider goes to Sea”

  1. William DeHart Says:

    Hey, this is wonderful. I lived in Richmond, Va. for years, and on my way to work passed a huge globe of the worlds, paths in the ocean: dedicated to Maury, the pathfinder of the oceans. Really impresses that your work is of such a high order and will mean so much in years to come. Congrats to all, especially students. Wdd

  2. Ewan S Fallon Says:

    I see there is no mention of the inventor of the glider!!

    I'll give you a clue, it was the writer of this comment.

    Hydroglider 1965 Patent 3,204,596 E.S. Fallon

    All the latest forms can be traced to the foregoing, but you will not find any mention of the patent or the inventor. The inference is that the people that built the device also invented it.

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