Underwater Gliders

  • Craig M. LeeEmail author
  • Daniel L. Rudnick
Part of the Springer Oceanography book series (SPRINGEROCEAN)


This chapter focuses on underwater gliders, placing them in the context of the recent surge in autonomous observing technologies, reviewing the underlying design philosophy and providing a brief history of their development. Gliders resolve scales of kilometers and hours, with the seasonal to annual endurance required to characterize climate variability and capture episodic events – a region of the spatial-temporal sampling spectrum that had previously been challenging to address. Examples of gliders applied to sustained studies of large-scale variability in boundary regions, to physical and biological/biogeochemical process studies, and to studies of polar regions illustrate strategies for efficient use that capitalize on the platform’s strengths. Although gliders are a mature platform with demonstrated scientific output, improvements to reliability, ease of use, and range would have large impacts on platform efficiency, enabling broader adoption and application to a wider range of scientific and operational tasks.



Initial glider development was supported by the US Office of Naval Research (ONR), with subsequent support from the US National Science Foundation, the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the US Office of Naval Research. The technology development and science reported here represent that work of a large number of people from institutions that include Oregon State University, University of Hawaii, University of Western Australia, Rutgers University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the University of Washington. The authors thank Luc Rainville and Barry Ma for their contributions to this chapter. This chapter was prepared with support from the ONR under grants N00014-13-1-0478 (CML), N00014-13-1-0478 (CML), N00014-13-1-0483 (DLR), and NOAA Ocean Observing and Monitoring Division under grant NA15OAR4320071 (DLR).


  1. 1.
    Roemmich D, Johnson GC, Riser S, Davis R, Gilson J et al (2009) The Argo program observing the global ocean with profiling floats. Oceanography 22:34–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Stommel H (1989) The Slocum mission. Oceanography 2(1):22–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Webb DC, Simonetti PJ, Jones CP (2001) SLOCUM: an underwater glider propelled by environmental energy. IEEE J Ocean Eng 26:447–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Rudnick DL (2016) Ocean research enabled by underwater gliders. Annu Rev Mar Sci 8:9.1–9.23. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Sherman J, Davis RE, Owens WB, Valdes J (2001) The autonomous underwater glider “Spray.”. IEEE J Ocean Eng 26:437–446CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Eriksen CC, Osse TJ, Light RD, Wen T, Lehman TW et al (2001) Seaglider: a long-range autonomous underwater vehicle for oceanographic research. IEEE J Ocean Eng 26:424–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Eriksen CC, Rhines PB (2008) Convective to gyre-scale dynamics: Seaglider campaigns in the Labrador Sea 2003–2005. In: Dickson RR, Meincke J, Rhines PB (eds) Arctic-Subarctic ocean fluxes: defining the role of the northern seas in climate. Springer, Dordrecht, Neth, pp 613–628CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Martin JP, Lee CM, Eriksen CC, Ladd C, Kachel NB (2009) Glider observations of kinematics in a Gulf of Alaska eddy. J Geophys Res 114:C12021. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Davis RE, Ohman MD, Rudnick DL, Sherman JT, Hodges B (2008) Glider surveillance of physics and biology in the southern California Current system. Limnol Oceanogr 53:2151–2168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Rudnick DL, Zaba KD, Todd RE, Davis RE (2017) A climatology of the California Current System from a network of underwater gliders. Prog Oceanogr 154:64–106Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Pelland NA, Eriksen CC, Lee CM (2013) Subthermocline eddies over the Washington continental slope as observed by Seagliders, 2003–09. J Phys Oceanogr 43:2025–2053Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Castelao R, Glenn S, Schofield O, Chant R, Wilkin J, Kohut J (2008) Seasonal evolution of hydrographic fields in the central Middle Atlantic Bight from glider observations. Geophys Res Lett 35(L03617).
  13. 13.
    Davis RE, Kessler WS, Sherman JT (2012) Gliders measure western boundary current transport from the South Pacific to the Equator. J Phys Oceanogr 42:2001–2013CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Rudnick DL, Jan S, Centurioni L, Lee C, Lien R-C et al (2011) Seasonal and mesoscale variability of the Kuroshio near its origin. Oceanography 24(4):52–63Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Lien R-C, Ma B, Cheng Y-H, Ho CR, Qiu B, Lee CM, Chang M-H (2014) Modulation of Kuroshio transport by Mesoscale eddies at the Luzon Strait entrance. J Geophys Res Oceans 119.
  16. 16.
    Perry MJ, Sackmann BS, Eriksen CC, Lee CM (2008) Seaglider observations of blooms and subsurface chlorophyll maxima off the Washington coast. Limnol Oceanogr 53:2169–2179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Rudnick DL, Cole ST (2011) On sampling the ocean using underwater gliders. J Geophys Res 116:C08010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Todd RE, Rudnick DL, Davis RE, Ohman MD (2011a) Underwater gliders reveal rapid arrival of El Niño effects off California’s coast. Geophys Res Lett 38:L03609Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Todd RE, Rudnick DL, Sherman JT, Owens WB, George L (2017) Absolute velocity estimates from autonomous underwater gliders equipped with doppler current profilers. J Atmos Ocean Technol 34:309–333. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    McClatchie S (2014) Regional fisheries oceanography of the California Current System. Springer, New York, 235 ppCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Todd RE, Rudnick DL, Mazloff MR, Davis RE, Cornuelle BD (2011b) Poleward flows in the southern California Current System: glider observations and numerical simulation. J Geophys Res 116:C02026Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Zaba KD, Rudnick DL (2016) The 2014–2015 warming anomaly in the Southern California Current System observed by underwater gliders. Geophys Res Lett 43:1241–1248Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Jacox MG, Hazen EL, Zaba KD, Rudnick DL, Edwards CA et al (2016) Impacts of the 2015–2016 El Niño on the California Current System: early assessment and comparison to past events. Geophys Res Lett 43:7072–7080Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Todd RE, Rudnick DL, Mazloff MR, Cornuelle BD, Davis RE (2012) Thermohaline structure in the California Current System: observations and modeling of spice variance. J Geophys Res 117:C02008Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Kurapov AB, Pelland NA, Rudnick DL (2017) Seasonal and interannual variability in alongslope oceanic properties off the US West Coast: inferences from a high-resolution regional model. J Geophys Res Oceans 122. doi: 10.1002/2017JC012721.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    McClatchie S, Cowen R, Nieto K, Greer A, Luo JY et al (2012) Resolution of fine biological structure including small narcomedusae across a front in the Southern California Bight. J Geophys Res 117:C04020CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ohman MD, Rudnick DL, Chekalyuk A, Davis RE, Feely RA et al (2013) Autonomous ocean measurements in the California Current Ecosystem. Oceanography 26:18–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Bretherton FP, Davis RE, Fandry CB (1976) A technique for objective analysis and design of oceanographic experiments applied to MODE-73. Deep-Sea Res 23:559–582Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Lindstrom E, Bryan F, Schmitt R (2015) SPURS: salinity processes in the upper-ocean regional study—the North Atlantic experiment. Oceanography 28(1):14–19. Scholar
  30. 30.
    Farrar JT, Rainville L, Plueddemann AJ, Kessler WS, Lee C, Hodges BA, Schmitt RW, Edson JB, Riser SC, Eriksen CC, Fratantoni DM (2015) Salinity and temperature balances at the SPURS central mooring during fall and winter. Oceanography 28(1):56–65. Scholar
  31. 31.
    Mahadevan A, D’Asaro E, Lee CM, Perry MJ (2012) Eddy-driven stratification initiates the North Atlantic spring bloom. Science 337:54–58. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Alkire MB, D’Asaro E, Lee CM, Perry MJ, Gray A, Cetinic I, Briggs N, Kallin E, Kaiser J, Gonzalez-Posada A (2012) Estimates of net community production and export using high-resolution, Lagrangian measurements of O2, NO3−, and POC through the evolution of a spring diatom bloom in the North Atlantic. Deep Sea Res Part 1 Oceanogr Res Pap.
  33. 33.
    Alkire MB, Lee CM, D’Asaro EA, Perry MJ, Briggs N, Cetinić I, Gray A (2014) Net community production and export from Seaglider measurements in the North Atlantic after the spring bloom. J Geophys Res 119.
  34. 34.
    Briggs N, Perry MJ, Cetinić I, Lee C, Gray AM, Rehm E (2011) High-resolution observations of aggregate flux during a sub-polar North Atlantic spring bloom. Deep Sea Res Part 1 Oceanogr Res Pap.
  35. 35.
    Omand MM, D’Asaro EA, Lee CM, Perry MJ, Briggs N, Cetinic I, Mahadevan A (2015) Eddy-driven subduction exports particulate organic carbon from the spring bloom. Science.
  36. 36.
    Cetinić I, Perry MJ, Briggs NT, Kallin E, D’Asaro EA, Lee CM (2012) Particulate organic carbon and inherent optical properties during 2008 North Atlantic Bloom Experiment. J Geophys Res 117:C06028.
  37. 37.
    Cetinić I, Perry MJ, D’Asaro E, Briggs N, Poulton N, Sieracki ME, Lee CM (2015) A simple optical index shows spatial and temporal heterogeneity in phytoplankton community composition during the 2008 North Atlantic Bloom experiment. Biogeosciences.
  38. 38.
    Curry B, Lee CM, Petrie B, Moritz R, Kwok R (2013) Multi-year volume, liquid freshwater, and sea ice transports through Davis Strait, 2004-2010. J Phys Oceanogr.
  39. 39.
    Lee, C.M., J. Thomson, and the Marginal Ice Zone and Arctic Sea State Teams. 2017. An autonomous approach to observing the seasonal ice zone in the western Arctic. Oceanography 30(2):56–68,

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Applied Physics LaboratoryUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of CaliforniaSan Diego, La JollaUSA

Personalised recommendations