The fleet of autonomous marine vehicles of the Oceanic Platform of the Canary Islands (PLOCAN) carried out numerous scientific, technical and training missions last year: 138 days of operation at sea, covering a total of 3,000 nautical miles, including deployment in the waters off La Palma and along the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula.
The missions were coordinated by the Underwater Vehicles, Instruments and Machines (VIMAS) division through six main actions that have generated more than two million data records on essential physical and biogeochemical, climatic, oceanographic and meteorological variables, requiring the use of five different technologies for both water column profilers and autonomous surface vehicles: Seaglider, Slocum, SeaExplorer, WaveGlider and ENT-UTEK.
The operations of PLOCAN’s fleet of autonomous marine vehicles have covered local, national and international areas to meet the needs of our own initiatives and numerous requests from potential users of the infrastructure for ocean observation using the latest generation of unmanned vehicles, while paying attention to safety, reliability and environmental sustainability.
The activities fostered cooperation with the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the sharing of operational and logistical resources to meet specific needs.
In particular, activity at the PLOCAN Integrated Observatory and surrounding areas in 2021 involved undertaking scientific and technical missions of various types and scope within the framework of international programmes and projects (EuroSea, MARCET, Ocean Time-Series Station and Mission Atlantic), some of which were particularly relevant and unique.
Noteworthy among the scientific missions were two transnational projects within the framework of the European iFADO and EU-MarineRobots projects, which were conducted along the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula between A Coruña and Lisbon. These missions were undertaken in response to requests from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography and the Portuguese Hydrographic Institute, which expressed an interest in the services and operational capabilities of the PLOCAN infrastructure.
The Cumbre Vieja volcanic eruption on the island of La Palma was one of the great challenges for PLOCAN, because of the unique nature and socio-economic and scientific relevance of the eruption, and because of the immediate response required by the resulting emergency. Several autonomous observation systems, both fixed and mobile, were deployed to attend to and contribute to the observation needs of the affected marine area.
A highlight of the La Palma missions was the seven-week mission of the WaveGlider SV2 surface vehicle. This was an emergency mission, which collected real-time data on environmental variables of great value and usefulness for monitoring and decision-making by the committee of experts tasked with advising the emergency management body.
PLOCAN, as a gliderport infrastructure, is a member of leading European initiatives such as EGO, the Global Ocean Observing System (EuroGOOS), OceanGliders (the glider component of the integrated Global Ocean Observing System, GOOS) and the European Multidisciplinary Seafloor and water-column Observatory (EMSO).
In these European initiatives, PLOCAN contributes to the analysis and application of international protocols and standards for the operation and provision of services with autonomous ocean monitoring platforms, and to the management and dissemination of the data generated. Of particular note is the capacity upgrade and improvement undertaken in 2021 through the tender for a new underwater profiling glider, designed to cover specific observation needs through its biogeochemical sensor system.
PLOCAN’s leadership in the coordination of the EuroGOOS Gliders Task Team continued throughout 2021.
In addition, PLOCAN became a member of the national working group on unmanned vessels led by the Directorate General of the Merchant Navy (DGMM), after the flagging and certification of the PLOCAN TRES vessel, the first unmanned vessel in Spain to be validated and certified by the DGMM.
11th edition of the Glider School
The VIMAS division organised the 11th edition of the Glider School, the highly specialised training initiative promoted by PLOCAN, which brought together students and collaborators from fifteen countries from four continents, together with the world’s leading manufacturers of commercial technologies, continuing its commitment as an international benchmark forum for high-level training in marine technologies for ocean observation.
Over the past decade, the Glider School has trained 165 students from 32 countries (five continents), with the participation of 28 companies and 15 leading institutions in the sector. This has enabled new synergies of many types and varying scope in marine and maritime science, technologies and services at national, European and international level, once again highlighting the strategic role that Unique Scientific and Technical Infrastructures (ICTS) play in the framework of technological development and the provision of operational services through their highly specialised capabilities.