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Traveling to the Depths of the Gulf of Mexico

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A team of researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette recently deployed a technology-advanced glider into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico to capture environmental and acoustical data. The goal – improve marine weather forecasts.

Naomi Mathew, a doctoral student in the Earth and Energy Sciences graduate program, helped pilot the Teledyne Slocum glider known as Sedna during its first long-term deployment. For 27 days, the glider collected data in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

“We worked closely with Teledyne to understand what Sedna is capable of doing,” said Mathew. “We learned that she learns with each dive to better optimize herself during her missions. She is a hardy piece of equipment on the outside, but her inner computers are very fragile and quite sophisticated.”

Mathew said Sedna – which was funded through a $456,593 grant from the National Science Foundation – can travel to depths of 1,000 meters and uses code words from pilots for navigation.

For the most recent journey, the research team deployed the glider about 80 miles offshore with four hydrophones attached to the device. A long antenna was set up to track Sedna and was connected to a computer that communicated with the glider.

“As first-time pilots, we were on edge, especially in high vessel traffic areas. We got lucky, however. She gave us a relatively easy time,” said Mathew. The device collected acoustic data along with environmental data such as salinity, temperature, and oxygen concentration during her entire deployment.

Plans are to share the data with a broad community of scientists across disciplines, local industry, resource managers, and policymakers. In addition, the data will be made public and also shared with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to improve marine weather forecasts.

Dr. Natalia Sidorovskaia, Coca-Cola/BORSF Endowed Professor of Physics at UL Lafayette, led the expedition.

“Naomi was a major player in our success,” said Sidorovskaia. “She worked on preparing, testing, deploying, and piloting the glider and, learning a lot about this advanced technology to expand her doctoral training and future career choices.”

Mathew, who plans to graduate in 2024, noted that being enrolled in the EESC Ph.D. program gave her this experience, which she may have not be able to participate otherwise.

“The EESC program is an interdisciplinary program made up of the physics, chemistry, and geosciences departments. It really is a unique experience to not only learn from people with various backgrounds but contribute my experiences and create a really cool working environment, making this program truly interdisciplinary,” she said. “I’ve not only learned from my fellow EESC students, but also working with Dr. Sidorovskaia. I’ve honestly learned skills, like coding or piloting a glider, that I do not think I ever would, with this level of understanding.”